Voter suppression gets a blow as as a federal court panel ruled Friday that two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn, reports the Charlotte Observer.
The ruling, handed down by a three-judge panel, has sparked uncertainty about whether the March primary elections can proceed as planned. The order bars elections in North Carolina’s 1st and 12th Congressional Districts until new maps are approved.
The districts must be redrawn within two weeks, and opponents of the ruling are expected to appeal.
The Observer reports the ruling comes more than two years after David Harris of Durham County filed a lawsuit seeking an invalidation of the two districts, which were represented at the time by two African-American Democrats—current Congressional Black Caucus Chair G.K. Butterfield in District 1 and Mel Watt in District 12. Rep. Alma Adams (also an African American) is the current representative for District 12.
The voting districts were redrawn in 2011 under a Republican-ruled Legislature and essentially concentrates black voters in districts said to reduce their overall political power.
“The record is replete with statements indicating that race was the legislature’s paramount concern,” the federal lawsuit contends. It adds, “A person traveling on Interstate 85 between [Charlotte and Greensboro] would exit the district multiple times, as the district’s boundaries zig and zag to encircle African-American communities.”
Challengers of North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan quickly praised the ruling, while legislators who helped design the maps said they were disappointed and promised a quick appeal.
“This ruling by all three judges is a vindication of our challenge to the General Assembly of North Carolina writing racially biased ‘apartheid’ voting districts to disenfranchise the power of the African-American vote,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP chapter, to the Raleigh-based News & Observer.
Redistricting lawsuits delayed North Carolina elections in 1998 and 2002, reports the outlet.