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Black North Carolina residents sue over Senate redistricting plan


Black North Carolina residents sue over Senate redistricting plan

Nov 21, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Lynn Bonner
Black North Carolina residents sue over Senate redistricting plan

Two Black northeastern North Carolina residents are suing to invalidate the state Senate redistricting plan approved last month.

The federal lawsuit filed Monday claims that the legislature ignored the history of racially polarized voting in northeastern North Carolina, federal law, and a state Supreme Court opinion to draw districts in eastern North Carolina that dilute Black votes. 

The suit asks the court to bar the Senate district map from being used in an election. Districts in the east and northeast should be redrawn to give Black voters in northeastern counties the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice in 2024, the lawsuit said.  

Northeastern North Carolina counties are part of the Black Belt extending through the American Southeast, places where enslaved Africans and their descendants worked fertile soil. Black Belt counties in North Carolina still have majority Black populations. The Senate plan configures districts in those counties to dilute Black voting strength, the lawsuit says, 

“Rather than crack Black voters across these districts, the General Assembly could have drawn the Black Belt counties into majority-minority districts that would have met the Voting Rights Act’s requirements while adhering to North Carolina’s redistricting criteria,” the lawsuit said. 

A 2002 NC Supreme Court decision instructed legislators to draw districts to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and then to draw districts that avoid dividing counties. 

Republicans drew the redistricting plans in secret and without input from Democrats. Republican redistricting leaders maintained throughout the redistricting debates that their plans are legal. The legislature also approved new congressional and state House districts along party lines in October. Those new maps are not part of the lawsuit. 

Senate Democrats warned Republicans that they were violating the state Supreme Court directive and the federal Voting Rights Act before Republicans approved new election district boundaries. 

Republicans should have listened, said Sen. Dan Blue, the chamber’s Democratic leader. 

“The plan enacted by the General Assembly in late October splits, cracks, and packs Black voters to dilute their votes and blunt their ability to fully participate in the democratic process,” Blue said in a statement.  

“For example, there are eight counties in North Carolina that are majority Black in population, and they are all in eastern North Carolina (Bertie, Hertford, Edgecombe, Northampton, Halifax, Vance, Warren and Washington). The map enacted by the General Assembly divides these eight counties among four separate districts,” he went on. “This is ‘cracking’ on steroids.”

Eastern North Carolina Senate distrits
Eastern North Carolina Senate districts

The lawsuit provided examples of majority-minority districts that could be drawn in northeastern and eastern counties. 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is not connected to this lawsuit, sent legislators a letter before they approved the new district lines that focused on northeastern and eastern counties and changes the organization said needed to be made to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The letter also included data from the 2022 election that the organization said showed “extreme racially polarized voting in North Carolina’s Black Belt.” 

Rodney D. Pierce, a social science teacher who lives in Halifax County, and Martin County resident Moses Mathews filed the suit. The Senate plan reduces the weight of their votes compared to the votes of white citizens, the lawsuit says.