Raleigh, N.C. (Oct. 29, 2021) — Civil rights groups filed a state lawsuit today challenging the North Carolina Legislature’s process for drawing new N.C. House and Senate voting maps. The suit would block proposed state legislative districts for failing to consider race during the initial stages of the map-making process in ways that could have devastating impacts on the representation of Black North Carolinians in violation of established state and federal law.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) brought the case on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, Common Cause, and individual voters, alongside pro bono counsel with the law firm Hogan Lovells. The case, NC NAACP vs. Berger, was filed in Wake County Superior Court, North Carolina.
Central to the complaint is the Legislature’s refusal to include racial data in its redistricting criteria in order to implement a so-called “race-neutral” process. The federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 requires the Legislature to use racial data when determining levels of racially polarized voting before drawing districts. By excluding this data from its redistricting criteria, plaintiffs claim the Legislature made it impossible to assess the need for VRA districts, in clear violation of the North Carolina Constitution, and the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision in Stephenson v. Bartlett (2003) that reconciles state and federal law.
“Once again, state redistricting leaders have failed North Carolinians by redrawing voting districts for political gain and depriving voters of color of their constitutional rights to fair political representation,” said Allison Riggs, Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Voting Rights with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “State law requires that lawmakers first draw districts that comply with the VRA, and they simply can’t do that without considering race.”
Plaintiffs are seeking declaratory relief acknowledging that the 2021 redistricting process for drawing legislative maps violated well-established law, and requiring lawmakers to instead follow a constitutional process. The complaint will also ask for a preliminary injunction delaying candidate filing for the 2022 March primary and the primary itself to allow necessary time to correct state maps and take public input.
“The North Carolina Constitution, as well as state and federal law, prohibit redistricting plans that disproportionately impact voters of color,” said Hogan Lovells partner Tom Boer. “Today, we are filing a Complaint that asks the court to stop the legislature from applying redistricting criteria that, while facially rejecting considerations of race, will effectively allow redistricting efforts that disproportionately impact voters of color. In addition, we are seeking an extension of candidate filing deadlines so the courts have time to review the final redistricting maps, which have not yet been adopted by the legislature, and all voters are ensured the opportunity to have their candidates of choice run for office.”
The complaint also claims that the Legislature’s failure to properly consider racial data led to a proposed N.C. Senate map risking harm to Black representation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution. For example, one proposed Senate map would reduce Black representation in northeastern North Carolina from three senators to one. In addition, the Senate map could pair incumbent lawmakers who are the representatives of choice of Black voters in Mecklenburg and Guilford Counties, forcing out at least one additional Black elected official.
“Lawmakers’ supposed ‘race-blind’ redistricting process is rigged to reduce the strength of our votes, silence our voices, and negate decades of struggle and sacrifice for fairer maps,” said Deborah Dicks Maxwell, President of the North Carolina NAACP. “You can’t represent all of North Carolina if you claim not to see us.”
Finally, the complaint alleges state lawmakers unnecessarily delayed the redistricting process, leaving Black communities with limited time to select, and ultimately elect, candidates of their choosing, in violation of their constitutional right to assembly. With state maps potentially enacted only a day before the start of the one-year residency requirement period for candidates in the November 2022 election, without legal recourse, voters would be deprived of the opportunity to work collectively to ensure that chosen candidates can run in new districts, with the imminent December 6-17, 2021 filing period only exacerbating an already compressed timeline.
“For decades, we at Common Cause have worked with members of both parties toward the goal of ending gerrymandering in order for the people of North Carolina to have fair voting maps. Sadly, legislative leaders are right now engaged in a needlessly rushed redistricting process that has failed to allow the public to meaningfully participate. And by cynically ignoring the law, legislative leaders are crafting maps that would unconstitutionally deprive Black voters of a voice in choosing their representatives,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause NC. “Let’s be clear: our state’s voting districts don’t belong to politicians in Raleigh, they belong to the people of North Carolina. We cannot stand idly by and see the people of North Carolina suffer for yet another decade under racist gerrymandering and illegal voting maps created through an unconstitutional redistricting process.”