Published 9:42 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

RALEIGH – Late Friday, a panel of three Federal judges declared two North Carolina Congressional Districts unconstitutional on Friday, including CD 1 that is currently held by U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield.

The First District cover a broad area, to include most all of the Roanoke-Chowan area and stretches from Elizabeth City, to Durham, and southeast to New Bern.

The state has until Feb. 19 to redraw the two districts.

Butterfield is running unopposed in the March 15 primary so would not be affected until the Nov. 8 general election.

Alma Adam, CD 12 representative, however, does face a primary challenger that could be affected by the federal ruling. The 12th District is in the western part of the state, stretching from Winston-Salem south through High Point, Thomasville, Lexington, Salisbury and Charlotte.

The R-C News Herald sought comment from Rep. Butterfield’s office on this issue, but has not heard back.

The federal judges ruled that race was the dominant factor for forming the 1st and 12th districts, which they ruled unconstitutional.

The state can appeal the decision, which could jeopardize the scheduled US House of Representatives primaries on Mar. 15 throughout the state.

Other races should not be affected, according to those in support of three-judge ruling.

The N.C. House Redistricting Committee, which drew the lines for the 1st and 12th U.S. Congressional Districts in 2011, said after the Friday ruling, “We are surprised and disappointed by the trial court’s eleventh hour decision that throws an election already underway into turmoil.”

The committee added, “Should this decision be allowed to stand, North Carolina voters will no longer know how or when they will get to cast their primary ballots in the presidential, gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections.

“And thousands of absentee voters may have already cast ballots that could be tossed out,” the committee said. “This decision could do far more to disenfranchise North Carolina voters than anything alleged in this case.

“We are confident our state Supreme Court made the right decision when it upheld the maps drawn by the General Assembly and approved by the Obama Justice Department, and we will move swiftly to appeal this decision.”

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina praised the ruling because the two districts are, “racially gerrymandered political districts.”

“The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the ‘nonnegotiable criterion’ for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12,” Hall said. “Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence.

“Democracy North Carolina is a plaintiff in a related challenge that is working its way through the courts,” he said. “We oppose the maps because they aggressively segregate voters and undermine the ability of voters to form multiracial ‘fusion’ coalitions to advance a meaningful multiracial society.

“We are encouraged to see federal judges agree that the maps are the product of what amounts to computerized apartheid,” Hall said.

“We deserve fair districts before the general election is held,” he added. “Don’t let backers of the racially gerrymandered districts get away with blaming the messengers who spoke the Truth and finally got some judges to pay attention.

“The mapmakers should have known better at the beginning of their power-grabbing exercise, paused to be a little less greedy, and saved us all from the turmoil caused by their excessively partisan manipulation of election laws,” Hall said. “Maybe they believe dividing voters by race serves their interests, but it actually undermines everyone’s faith in fair elections.

In a similar vein, the NC NAACP hailed the decision.

“This is a great victory for racial minorities in North Carolina and for the integrity of our state’s political process.” said Rev. Dr. William Barber, President of the NC NAACP.

Barber said, “The Court concluded, based upon the overwhelming evidence compiled by NC NAACP lawyers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in the NC NAACP parallel case in State Court, that the North Carolina General Assembly and Gov. Patrick McCrory intended to draw congressional districts that packed racial minorities into two congressional districts primarily populated by African Americans.”

He said the Court’s opinion concluded the actions of Republicans who created the district lines violated Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and of the U.S Constitution.

“Because two of the Districts are unconstitutional,” Barber said, “the Court ordered Defendant McCrory and the General Assembly to re-draw the boundaries of Congressional Districts 1 and 12 by February 19, 2016 and barred McCrory and the state’s Board of Election from conducting any U.S. Congressional elections until these districts were re-drawn according to constitutional standards.”

Butterfield, a Democrat, has served the First Congressional District since July of 2004. Including Butterfield, the three most recent First District Congressmen have all be African American (Frank Ballance and Eva Clayton).

Clayton succeeded Walter B. Jones Sr., a white Democrat who died in office on Sept. 15, 1992. Jones originally took office on Feb. 5, 1966. Herbert C. Bonner, a white Democrat, served the District from November 1940 until November 1965.

Since 1883, a succession of 10 Democrats have been elected to represent District 1 in the U.S. Congress. The last Republican to hold that seat was Walter F. Pool of Pasquotank County, who only served five months in 1883 before dying in August of that year.