North Carolina’s redrawn legislative districts were debated Thursday before a panel of three federal judges who had struck down previous district maps for racial bias. The judges must decide whether to force another redrawing of the boundaries approved by Republicans over the summer or allow them to be used in the 2018 elections. Lawyers representing GOP legislative leaders and dozens of voters who successfully sued to throw out previous districts were subjected to 3½ hours of questioning by the judges, who did not immediately rule. Later Thursday, the judges opened wider the door to choosing an outside expert to make map changes on their behalf. Candidate filing starts in February. The judges had ordered the GOP-dominated legislature to approve new maps by Sept. 1, in keeping with their decision last year that 28 House and Senate districts drawn in 2011 were unlawful racial gerrymanders.
Nearly all of the districts challenged by North Carolina voters in a lawsuit had majority-black voting age populations. Critics of the 2011 maps contend black voters were packed in certain districts so that surrounding districts would be more white and Republican. Republicans counter that they believed they could avoid voting rights litigation by creating majority-black districts whenever possible.
The previous maps were first used in the 2012 elections. They helped the GOP expand and retain veto-proof majorities in the two chambers, which in turn implemented a conservative agenda. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2016 election has done little so far to stop it.