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Quick turnaround rejected in lawsuit alleging state senate maps dilute Black voting power


The North Carolina Legislative Building is pictured on Monday, April 24, 2023.

Updated Nov. 27 at 3:54 p.m.: On Monday, federal judge James Dever III rejected a motion for a speedy decision from the plaintiffs in a case alleging the new state senate maps were racially gerrymandered.

The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction — a measure that would stop the new state senate maps from being used while the case is being argued and decided — on Nov. 22. They requested the injunction be granted by Dec. 1, before candidate filing for the 2024 elections begins.

Dever wrote that the plaintiff's timeline was unjustified and placed too much demand on the court.

"Furthermore, plaintiffs' request completely ignores that their case is not the only case on the court's docket and that plaintiffs do not set this court's schedule for holding hearings or deciding motions," Dever wrote.

The case will continue, but not on an expedited schedule.

A lawsuit filed today in federal court alleges that new maps drawn by the N.C. General Assembly dilute the power of Black voters in northeastern North Carolina, constituting an illegal racial gerrymander.

The lawsuit specifically concerns N.C. Senate District 2, which stretches from the Virginia border to Carteret County. The plaintiffs in the suit — Rodney D. Pierce and Moses Matthews, who are both Black voters in the newly drawn District 2 — argue that the districts in the northeastern part of the state were drawn to weaken the power of Black voters.

The lawsuit says Black voters were cracked into several different districts in the area. Cracking generally refers to the splitting up of a group of voters into different districts so that the affected group's voting power is diluted.

This map, provided in the lawsuit, shows the lines of Senate District 2 and the share of the voting age population that is Black in the eastern part of the state.

Pierce and Matthews brought the lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a commonly called-upon law in racial gerrymandering lawsuits. Section 2 prohibits any practice that results in disenfranchisement based on race, and the section specifically bans any process that prevents voters of color from electing "representatives of their choice."

Previous court cases on the section have said illegal dilution can occur when voters of color are dispersed "into districts in which they constitute an ineffective minority of voters." Although several counties in the area have majority-Black populations, none of the Senate districts in the area are majority-Black. Only approximately 30 percent of District 2's voting-age population is Black.

The lawsuit suggests that, even leaving the rest of the 2023 redistricting plan alone, Districts 1 and 2 could be redrawn so that District 2 has a majority-Black voting population.

Importantly, earlier on Monday, a federal appeals court decided lawsuits cannot be brought by individual citizens — like Pierce and Matthews — under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The appeals court said Section 2 suits can only be brought by the federal government, despite dozens of cases on the section being previously decided after an individual filed suit.

The decision, which will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, could impact the validity of Monday's lawsuit on North Carolina's Senate districts.

Pierce and Matthews' lawsuit is the first to challenge the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly's newly drawn maps. Their lawsuit does not allege that the General Assembly's maps constitute partisan gerrymandering, which both the U.S. Supreme Court and N.C. Supreme Court have declared is not an issue they can rule on.


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Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a city & state assistant editor and as the 2023 summer managing editor. Ethan is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science, with a minor in history.

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