Federal court strikes down Wake districts for commissioners, school board

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A federal court in Richmond, Virginia, has overruled school and commissioner districts in Wake County that were redrawn by the Republican legislature.

In a 2-1 decision issued Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the maps violate the state and federal constitutional guarantees of one-person, one person.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners had a Republican majority until the last election, when Democrats swept all the open seats in 2014. That meant all seven seats on the board were held by Democrats.

So the General Assembly, led by Sen. Chad Barefoot of Raleigh, redrew districts for Wake County Board of Commissioners so they would match those for the Wake County Board of Education, which also has a Democratic majority. The General Assembly had re-drawn the school board districts in 2013 and decided the Board of Commissioners would match the new school board districts.

The General Assembly had also moved to re-draw Greensboro City Council districts in 2015, but that law was blocked by a federal judge.

On Friday, the appeals court in Richmond struck down those new Wake County districts, essentially saying Republicans had re-drawn the districts to give them an edge.

“We do not doubt that some amount of partisan politics is par for the course in redistricting generally,” the court said.

But, the court said, “In this case … rather than seeking proportional representation of the two main political parties, the evidence shows that the challenged plans under-populated Republican-leaning districts and over-populated Democratic-leaning districts in order to gerrymander Republican victories.”

“In other words, the challenged redistricting here subverts political fairness and proportional representation and sublimates partisan gamesmanship.”

Tom Benton, the chair of the Wake County school board, said, “We are all pleased and relieved that the districts as drawn have been ruled as unconstitutional. We urge our local delegation in the General Assembly to simply revert back to the original plan’s districts and terms.

“However, if they choose to seek a change, we would strongly encourage them to  set a process that provides for local control of local elections and not the state General Assembly determining how Wake County elects its local boards.”

Matt Calabria, a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners said the ruling didn’t surprise him.

“This ruling validates what we already knew; the legislator’s actions were attempts to gerrymander Wake County’s local government,” he said. “This will have a huge impact on this fall’s elections.”

And Sig Hutchinson of the Board of Commissioners said, “I am pleased with the ruling and look forward to seeing how this ruling plays itself out through the rest of the summer and into November.”

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