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The Daily Tar Heel

Pundits Split on Court Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold district lines the N.C. General Assembly redrew in 1997, overruling a March 2000 lower court ruling that the district was unlawful.

The Supreme Court ruling concludes nine years of litigation regarding the district, which opponents said was drawn primarily along racial lines to elect a minority representative.

N.C. politicians from both sides of the aisle say the ruling will help guarantee more equal representation for the state's minority residents.

But Duke law Professor Robinson Everett, who initially filed the lawsuit against the state in 1991, predicts Wednesday's ruling will create a loophole for racial gerrymandering.

"It really opens up the flood gates for evasion," Everett said.

The 12th District stretches 71 miles along Interstate 85, including the downtown areas of Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, which have heavily concentrated black populations.

Although Everett does not believe race can be excluded from political considerations, he said it should not be the primary motivation for drawing districts.

"It's pretty hard to separate race from politics," he said.

But Sen. Frank Ballance, D-Warren, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said the ruling will prove to be a positive move for the state and the nation in future redistricting decisions.

Ballance said race was not the main factor determining how the 12th District was drawn, despite critics' claims. "(The ruling) vindicated the state's position that race was not the predominate factor," he said.

Sen. Patrick Ballantine, R-New Hanover, said the decision will ensure congressional representation for N.C. minorities. "Protecting the minority district is a good thing," he said. "I think it's appropriate for us to have minority representation in Congress."

Ideally, Ballantine said, the state should have two or three minority districts, especially since North Carolina gained an additional seat as a result of the 2000 Census data. "We have to be extra sensitive toward minorities because of past discrimination," he said.

Ballantine said the decision will influence future redistricting in North Carolina but added that he is not sure how much effect it will have nationally.

UNC political science Professor George Rabinowitz said the Supreme Court "suggests race can be used if it has a political motive" by reversing the federal court's decision.

Rabinowitz said the timing of the decision is especially consequential because most states soon will begin redrawing their congressional districts.

He said the court ruling has established a precedent for what is acceptable in terms of redistricting. "As long as people present fairly clear political motives that aren't based exclusively on race, they are going to be supported by court decisions."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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