- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s updated congressional districts - redrawn by legislators after federal judges ruled some lines created illegal racial gerrymanders - also are unconstitutional and should be rejected, according to the voters who originally sued to overturn them.

Lawyers for David Harris and Christine Bowers - voters who challenged the previous majority black 1st and 12th District boundaries - filed in federal court their objections to boundaries drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly on Feb. 19. They also want the judges to draw new maps themselves.

For the map originally drawn in 2011, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued the GOP mapmakers previously packed black voters into the two districts so as to make surrounding areas more white and Republican.

With the new map, the voters’ lawyers wrote, the legislature went to the extreme in the other direction when it said it ignored racial demographics. Instead, they said, lawmakers substituted an extreme partisan gerrymander designed to help Republicans keep the 10 congressional seats they now hold out of the 13 in a state that’s largely evenly-split politically and scattered black voters “to the winds.”

“The General Assembly has diced up African American voters across nearly all congressional districts, once again ensuring that minority voter influence is suppressed by the white majority in as many districts as possible, and cementing the extreme Republican advantage achieved through the unconstitutional plan,” lawyers Kevin Hamilton and Eddie Speas wrote in the document filed late Monday night.

Attorneys for the state and legislative leaders have until next Monday to file a response.

Legislative leaders still say the 2011 boundaries are legal and have sought an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices, however, refused to allow elections to continue under the contested map. Congressional primary elections set for March 15 have been pushed back to June 7.

The new 1st District, which stretches from Durham north and east to Gates and Washington counties, now has a black voting-age population of around 45 percent, compared to 53 percent under the old map. For the 12th District, which used to have a black voting-age population of 51 percent, is now at around 35 percent. The two districts have elected black representatives for more than 20 years.

The new 12th District, which is now only in Mecklenburg County, is an hour’s drive for incumbent 12th District Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro. The district used to collect portions of Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, largely by running along Interstate 85.

Black voters in the new 12th District now “are cut off from their duly-elected candidate of choice,” the plaintiffs’ filing said.

Republicans previously argued race wasn’t the predominant factor in drawing the two districts - rather politics in the 12th and avoiding legal challenges under the federal Voting Rights Act in the 1st.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, said last month racial considerations weren’t part of the redistricting criteria for the new map because the judges’ Feb. 5 ruling striking down the old 1st and the 12th Districts determined there was no racially polarized voting in the state.

But that’s not an accurate portrayal of the decision, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said. Rather, Monday’s filing said, the state didn’t present any evidence or enough evidence of sufficient racially polarized voting to justify the 2011 lines.

“This hardly amounts to a proclamation” that race is entirely irrelevant to the redistricting process, the filing said.

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