/ North Carolina

The Surprise Gift in Yesterday's Redistricting Court Order

The late-in-the-day court order rejecting the special election and setting the timeline for the map redraw was, understandably, big news. But none of the coverage that I've seen or searched has pointed out a key sentence in that decision that could affect the way candidates run, and even how the districts are redrawn.

Tucked in the third-to-last paragraph is the following provision:

Any citizen having established their residence in a House or Senate district modified by the General Assembly under the remedial redistricting plans as of the closing day of the filing period for the 2018 election in that district, shall be qualified to serve as Senator or Representative if elected to that office, notwithstanding the requirement of Sections 6 and 7 of Article II of the North Carolina Constitution, which provide that each Senator and Representative, at the time of their election, shall have resided “in the district for which he is chosen for one year immediately preceding his election.”

In other words, candidates will be able to relocate as late as February 28, 2018 – instead of November 6, 2017, as would normally be required by the State Constitution. That means three months and three weeks more time for candidates to strategically choose a place of residence in reaction to the maps.

(Keep in mind that, while the NCGA is supposed to enact maps by September 1, if those maps don't satisfy the court, the process could be elongated, and maps might not be finally settled until closer to November.)

At the hearing last week, witnesses raised concerns that the maps would be reshaped to disadvantage Democrats, either "double-bunking" them, or placing historically strong leaders or promising new entries in districts lopsided against them. The provision above appears to provide Democrats with an extra allowance geared to evade that line of attack. (Not that moving one's home is a simple endeavor.)

The proverbial word on the street is that the "new" maps already have been completed, but I wonder if the Republicans might be reconsidering their designs, given that the judges' gesture partially de-fangs some of the tactics.

What interests me most about this clause, however, is that the trial was ostensibly about racial gerrymandering, and that's what the new maps are supposed to remedy. This piece of the court order, though, while it may help minority candidates, strikes me as a response one might expect from a case about partisan gerrymandering.