RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Republican-led General Assembly on Thursday approved new district maps for elections in the next decade which are poised to keep Republicans in power and potentially keep the courts involved in the process.
Rep. Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, lauded his GOP colleagues for approving the maps after several weeks of committee meetings that were broadcast live for the first time. The maps split the state into 50 State Senate districts, 120 House of Representatives, and 14 Congressional districts.
"This is the most transparent process in the history of this state," Hall said. "We voluntarily chose to be out in public and not use election data, even though by law we didn't have to do that. We chose to do that because that's the right thing to do. We did that. This body did that."
Though Democrats roundly voted against all the proposed maps, they reserved particular ire for the congressional map which several analysts predict will give the GOP a good chance of winning as many as 11 of 14 districts -- an astounding number considering how evenly divided the state is between registered Democrats, Republicans and independents.
"When I look at these congressional maps - they stink," Rep. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt County, said. "People don't want gerrymandering. That's what we have, People don't want us packing. That's what we're doing. People don't want us to separate people with the same interest. That's what we're doing."
Historically, Democrats and Republicans in North Carolina and across the country have been accused of drawing maps that presuppose outcomes to help their electoral chances, a process also known as gerrymandering.
Complaints about partisan gerrymandering almost always arise when one party controls the redistricting process and has the ability to maximize the seats it holds in a state legislature or its state's congressional delegation. Republicans, however, have been under intense scrutiny since becoming the majority party in 2010.
Several times in the last decade, courts have thrown out their maps after voting rights groups successfully argued they were unconstitutional. Before the courts intervened, Republicans held 10 of 13 congressional districts in a state that tends to have closely decided statewide elections. Likewise in the General Assembly, Republicans held comfortable majorities in the House and Senate and even held veto-proof super-majorities from 2012-2018. In the 2020 election, new maps kept those majorities in the House and Senate, but the congressional delegation went eight Republicans and five Democrats.
Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2019 on partisan redistricting - in a case involving North Carolina - where the 5-4 majority ruled federal judges should stay out of state redistricting issues.
"What the appellees and dissent seek is an unprecedented expansion of judicial power," wrote Justice John Roberts, adding that voters and elected officials should be the arbiters of what they consider a political dispute.
Despite the SCOTUS decision, legal fights remain in the North Carolina Supreme Court over whether partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution.
A new lawsuit, moreover, was filed in Wake County last month by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), which brought the case on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, Common Cause, and individual voters.
"Lawmakers' supposed 'race-blind' redistricting process is rigged to reduce the strength of our votes, silence our voices, and negate decades of struggle and sacrifice for fairer maps," said Deborah Dicks Maxwell, President of the North Carolina NAACP. "You can't represent all of North Carolina if you claim not to see us."