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Panel Rules District Must Be Redrawn

Law: Judges say race was too much of a factor in drawing of N.C. area. Decision could delay May congressional primaries.

March 08, 2000|From Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Race played too great a factor in drawing a congressional district, a three-judge federal panel ruled Tuesday in a decision that could delay the May congressional primaries.

In a 2-1 decision, the judges determined the 12th District, covering 90 miles from Charlotte to Greensboro along Interstate 85, is illegal and must be redrawn. The 1st District, which covers portions of eastern North Carolina, was upheld by the panel.

The 1st and 12th Districts elected North Carolina's first black congressional representatives in a century in 1992. In that year, the districts were first drawn in efforts to bolster minority representation in Congress.

Tuesday's ruling makes it uncertain whether the May 2 congressional primaries will be held as planned. The current congressional districts--drawn in 1997--will have to be readjusted so that a new 12th District can meet the panel's approval, state officials said.

"This means that the North Carolina Legislature has to go back into special session within a short period of time and draw a new plan in order to hold our primary election," Atty. Gen. Mike Easley said in a statement.

The May 1998 congressional primaries also were delayed for four months after the identical 12th District boundaries at issue in the trial were rejected by a similar three-judge panel. A new filing period for candidates had to be held under the new boundaries.

Robinson Everett, the Duke University law professor who filed the lawsuit challenging the 1st and 12th Districts that led to a four-day trial in November, was pleased with the ruling.

"The trial proved that the racial motivation was the predominant factor," Everett said Tuesday.

Everett, who challenged the districts' makeup over the last decade, has argued repeatedly that the two districts were drawn primarily to elect blacks.

State attorneys and legislative leaders have said race was only one of the factors.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which heard earlier challenges to the districts in 1993 and 1996, ordered the three-judge panel last year to hear the case because the justices said the panel lacked enough information when it declared in 1998 that race played too predominant a role in the 12th District boundaries.

The 1997 plan left the 1st District with just over 50% black voters, and the 12th with 47%. When a three-judge panel declared the 12th District unconstitutional in 1997, the Legislature had to quickly adopt new boundaries used only for the 1998 election. The 1997 boundaries remain in effect.

Democratic state Sen. Roy Cooper, who was the chief architect of the 1997 congressional redistricting effort, said Tuesday night that the decision likely will mean the state will have to readopt the 1998 boundaries, which the panel has upheld in the past. If the General Assembly does not create new boundaries, the panel will.

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