The Daily Brew: North Carolina must redraw state legislative maps

Today’s Brew highlights a North Carolina Superior Court decision rejecting the state’s legislative districts + a roundup of local election news  
 The Daily Brew

Welcome to the Thursday, September 5, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. North Carolina court strikes down state’s legislative maps as partisan gerrymander
  2. Local Roundup
  3. Texas governor appoints former appeals court judge to state supreme court

North Carolina court strikes down state’s legislative maps as partisan gerrymander

You may have heard that a North Carolina court struck down the state’s legislative districts September 3 as an impermissible partisan gerrymander under the state constitution. Here’s a brief summary of the case along with the next steps. 

A group of plaintiffs—including Common Cause and the Democratic Party of North Carolina—filed suit against the state legislative district map adopted by the general assembly in 2017. This redistricting plan was a remedial map used after certain districts were deemed to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 2016 by a federal district court. The lawsuit alleged that the state legislative district map infringed upon the rights to equal protection, free speech, association, and free elections guaranteed by the state constitution. 

A three-judge panel of state superior court judges–Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite, and Alma Hinton–ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs. In their ruling, the judges wrote, “[The] 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting. It is not the free will of the people that is fairly ascertained through extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rather, it is the carefully crafted will of the map drawer that predominates.”

Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R) announced that state Republicans would not appeal the decision. In a statement, he said, “We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent, but we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us.”

North Carolina Superior Court justices are elected to eight-year terms. From 1998 through 2016, these elections were nonpartisan; however, they became partisan elections starting in 2018. Ridgeway, Crosswhite, and Hinton were each last elected unopposed in 2014, 2016, and 2012, respectively.

The court ordered state lawmakers to draft remedial maps by September 18 for use in the 2020 election cycle. Should lawmakers fail to adopt remedial maps, the court will appoint a referee to develop and recommend remedial maps to the court. All 50 seats in the state Senate and 120 seats in the state House are up for election in 2020. The filing deadline for state legislative seats is December 20, 2019. The primary is scheduled for March 3, 2020.

North Carolina currently has divided government. Democrat Roy Cooper was elected governor in 2016 and is running for re-election in 2020. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature—a 29-21 majority in the state Senate and a 65-55 majority in the state House. 

The latest edition of The Ballot Bulletin—our free monthly newsletter covering federal, state, and local election policy—comes out next week. Click here to instantly subscribe and get full coverage of this story.

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Local Roundup 

At Ballotpedia, we provide election coverage of all officeholders in the nation’s 100 largest cities—including mayors, city council members, and other municipal officers like city clerk and treasurer. We also cover every election on the ballot in these cities, such as county officials, local ballot measures, and special districts. There are more than 585,000 elected officials nationwide, and most elections happen at the hyper-local level. 

Here’s a quick summary of the local news we’re covering this week:

Middleton, Idaho→

Recall efforts were unsuccessful in removing three members of the Middleton School District board of trustees in Middleton, Idaho, at elections held August 27. The recall effort against one board member did not succeed because the number of votes in favor of recall was not higher than the number of votes the board member received in her last election in 2017. The recalls against two other board members were defeated by margins of five and six votes, respectively. All three board members retained their seats. 

Charlotte, North Carolina→

Charlotte is holding partisan primaries for mayor and 10 of the 11 seats on its city council September 10. Mayor Vi Lyles is running for her second two-year term and faces four Democratic challengers. If no candidate receives more than 30% in the primary, a runoff will be held October 8. The Democratic nominee will face the sole Republican mayoral candidate—David Michael Rice—in the November 5 general election. Some Charlotte-area voters are in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which is also holding a special election on September 10. 

Toledo, Ohio→

Toledo is holding nonpartisan primaries for five city council seats September 10 in districts where three or more candidates are running. There is no primary in the sixth district since there are only two candidates. The top two finishers in each race—regardless of party—will advance to the general election November 5. Two municipal court judges and the clerk of the municipal court are also up for election. The incumbents for all three positions are running for re-election and no other candidates filed to run against them.

Four of the six districts holding elections in 2019 feature incumbent council members running for re-election. The Toledo City Council has 12 members—six elected at large and one from each of six districts. The at-large council members—along with the mayor—are up for election in 2021.

Texas governor appoints former appeals court judge to state supreme court

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appointed Jane Bland on August 26 to a seat on the Texas Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created when Jeff Brown was confirmed to a federal district judgeship in July. She previously served as a Texas appeals court judge from 2003 to 2018. Bland—who ran as a Republican— was defeated for re-election by Gordon Goodman (D) in 2018. 

The Texas Supreme Court is comprised of nine justices that serve six-year terms elected in partisan elections. If a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement until the next general election. 

If the legislature is in session when a supreme court appointment is made, the Texas Senate must confirm the appointee. Since the legislature was not in session, the Senate did not have to confirm Bland’s appointment. She must stand for re-election in 2020 to remain on the court.

Four current Texas Supreme Court justices were originally appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry (R) and three were initially appointed by Gov. Abbott. The other two justices—both Republicans—were initially chosen by voters in partisan elections.

There have been 18 state supreme court vacancies in 2019 in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Thirteen of the vacancies were caused by retirements. Two former justices took jobs in the private sector. One vacancy occurred when a justice was elevated to chief justice of the court, and two others occurred when the justices were confirmed to federal judicial positions.

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