- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s updated congressional map complies with a trial court ruling that race played too large a role in previous lines and should be used for upcoming elections, according to state attorneys defending the new boundaries.

Their federal court filing responds to written arguments from two voters who originally sued over the 2011 map and believe new boundaries approved by the General Assembly last month are illegal, too. The plaintiffs’ lawyers want the Greensboro court to step in and draw the lines better.

But there’s no need to do that because no gerrymandering occurred and race is not the predominant factor in drawing any of the districts, attorneys Alec Peters and Tom Farr wrote for the state. They also said the boundaries only split 13 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and a dozen precincts - the lowest levels going back to the 1990s - in keeping with what some public hearing recipients requested.

The new “congressional plan follows traditional redistricting criteria more faithfully than any prior congressional plan in North Carolina in at least 25 years,” the lawyers wrote in the filing late Monday. “The new plan is not a gerrymander of any kind: the map speaks for itself.”

A three-judge panel threw out the majority black 1st and 12th Congressional Districts on Feb. 5 and ordered new lines within two weeks. The General Assembly complied. Legislators also delayed next week’s congressional primary elections until June 7.

The court has given the voters who sued until Wednesday to have the last word. Then the federal court must decide what to do, if anything. No timetable has been set. Candidate filing under the new maps is supposed to begin March 16.

Republican legislative leaders say they drew the new maps without any considerations for racial demographics. The 1st and 12th Districts now have black voting-age populations well below 50 percent. And the 12th, a serpentine district that largely followed along Interstate 85 from Charlotte and Greensboro while picking up Winston-Salem residents, is now a compact district in an around Charlotte. But current 12th District Rep. Alma Adams, who is black, now lives an hour away in the new 13th District, threatening her re-election chances.

The plaintiffs and Democratic allies at the legislature argue GOP lawmakers misconstrued what a three-judge panel said. The map critics said race must still be taken into consideration, to ensure the power of minority voters isn’t diluted, as required by the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.

Although Republican lawmakers didn’t use race in their new redistricting criteria, Farr and Peters wrote, the racial makeup of the 1st and 12th align with what a plaintiff’s expert testified would allow black voters to elect their preferred candidate.

“The plaintiffs’ insistence that the General Assembly should have traded one alleged quota for another quota is baseless and should be rejected,” the state’s filing reads.

The state also rejected arguments that the map is now an illegal partisan gerrymander since the boundaries are designed to allow Republicans to retain 10 of the 13 seats in the state’s congressional delegation, as GOP incumbents now hold. The filing pointed out that Republicans do not comprise a majority of the registered voters in any of the 13 districts.

If the new map results in a 10-3 split, “it will be because thousands of registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters voted for Republican candidates across the state,” the state attorneys wrote. Partisan composition was balanced with other criteria in drawing the new map, including the compactness of the districts and minimizing the number of counties and precincts split by district lines, they added.

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