A special three-judge panel ruled Monday that two suits challenging the Republican-drawn voting maps for upcoming elections in North Carolina can move forward.
Democratic elected officials and civil rights and election watchdog groups argue the maps are unconstitutional because of racial gerrymandering and boundaries that cross too many county lines.
The panel dismissed claims that the maps violated the state constitution because they were drawn in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner and that they didn't reflect the "good of the whole." The judges also dismissed the claim that split precincts aren't allowed unless the U.S. Department of Justice fails to approve a map without them.
Superior Court Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton will allow arguments on claims that the maps were drawn with voters' race in mind, which would violate the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions. They also will hear arguments on claims that splitting precincts creates a burden on some voters, that some legislative and congressional districts violate a provision that counties aren't supposed to be split up and that the maps violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
No hearing date has been set for the case, and both sides claimed victory in Monday's ruling.
“I am pleased that many of these frivolous complaints were dismissed today and am confident that, once the facts are presented, the remainder of complaints will be tossed out,” Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said in a statement.
“We are glad that today the court unanimously recognized that many of these claims were completely without merit," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of House Redistricting Committee, said in a statement. "These maps are fair and legal, and as the court said last time, we look forward to holding the 2012 elections under the maps the legislature lawfully enacted.”
“We are pleased that the major claims in the lawsuit remain," a group of former and current Democratic lawmakers, the plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, said in a statement. "We look forward to the opportunity to fully proving the significant constitutional flaws in all three redistricting plans and the manner in which those plans violate the rights of all North Carolina citizens.”
The three-judges ruled two weeks ago that North Carolina's primary will be held on May 8 as scheduled, despite the lawsuits. Delaying the primary until July wouldn't leave enough time to handle the case and allow candidates enough time to campaign, they said.
By Matthew Burns and Laura Leslie
Three-Judge Panel Refuses to Delay NC Primary Elections .