When it comes to drawing districts for congressional elections, House Speaker Tim Moore says North Carolina Republicans nailed it.
“Frankly, it's a model other states could follow,” says Moore.
A panel of federal judges vehemently disagrees. They ruled all 13 of North Carolina's congressional districts are illegal partisan gerrymanders and must be redrawn. In fact, three of the state's electoral maps have been ruled illegal gerrymanders by federal courts over the past year. Which is why a single word has come to dominate political headlines in North Carolina of late: Redistricting.
Speaker Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County spoke to WFAE’s Tom Bullock.
BULLOCK: I want to begin with North Carolina's congressional districts. Last week, as you know, a federal panel ordered all 13 districts be redrawn by January 24th because of what the judges called “invidious partisanship” used in drawing the districts. That panel has now denied a request to delay that ruling. So Speaker Moore, can you give us an update on where things stand?
MOORE: Certainly, we feel confident that the districts that we have drawn are constitutional in every respect and we, respectfully, disagree with the court's decision. We have actually appealed this case to the nation's highest court, to the U.S. Supreme Court because we want to get clarity for voters and for legislators. And, ultimately, if the court follows through with the precedent that's been in place for many, many decades, we believe the court will rule in our favor.
BULLOCK: Now, obviously you'll apply for a stay, which is that delay with the U.S. Supreme Court. You've also filed an appeal. Is there a timeline on any of these decisions?
MOORE: We are hopeful that a stay will be issued this week. We really need to address this sooner rather than later because the filing is supposed to start for our office in a few weeks. And bear in mind the history of this. We were running previously under districts that were approved in 2011 that had been pre-cleared by the Obama justice department at the time. And then roughly last year, the court applies this new standard now to strike them down. We then drew the districts and this new map we have. This new map splits fewer counties, fewer precincts and is more compact than in any congressional districts in any recent or modern history of the state.
BULLOCK: Speaker Moore, as you said, this week you're hoping for a stay or ruling of some kind from the U.S. Supreme Court. In timing here, the deadlines here are key because this week the original panel of federal judges which struck down those congressional districts as partisan gerrymanders are expected to name a special master to independently draw new districts just in case the general assembly doesn't act by that January 24th deadline outlined in the ruling. So I ask you this: Will the general assembly meet that deadline?
MOORE: We are optimistic that a stay will be issued, but we believe that we drew our districts in compliance with the court order. And if you take some of the rationale and some of the commentary that the courts will provide, if you read into some of that commentary, the court is essentially trying to apply standards or requirements that have never, ever been imposed in any redistricting case in the history of the nation. So I'm unsure of what a special master would do other than just come in and just draw new districts with basically no criteria. And the travesty is if the courts take this over, it's not really a matter of taking the authority away from the general assembly, it's a matter of taking the authority of this away from the voters of the state.
BULLOCK: Well, you're right about the commentary in the case. It's very fascinating. And this is, indeed, the first time a federal panel of judges has thrown out an entire state's congressional districts. But inside that ruling is also some interesting tidbits I want to ask you about. Depositions in the case show that Republican lawmakers had GOP redistricting consultant Dr. Tom Hofeller begin redrawing the districts back in 2016 when these maps were ruled racial gerrymanders, at least two districts where I should say. And that happened the day after the original ruling from the panel that found the gerrymandering had occurred. This was days before the redistricting committee was even appointed. So have Republican lawmakers already contacted or hired Dr. Hofeller to play any role in possibly redrawing North Carolina's current congressional districts?
MOORE: You know, I don't know the answer to that question, but we're at a point now where we've got a court order in place that we believe is fundamentally unconstitutional. This panel is creating new law. It is essentially legislating from the bench, which regardless of what political stripe one is, conservative or liberal, I think is a very bad thing.
BULLOCK: And in fairness gerrymandering is something that, frankly, seems to unify both Democrats and Republicans, as in both major parties are guilty of doing it when they are in power. And to this point partisan gerrymandering has never been fully ruled illegal. Both parties however decry gerrymandering when they are in the minority. Is it time for an independent redistricting commission in North Carolina?
MOORE: I don't think it is. And I'll tell you why. Look, at the end of the day we as elected representatives and senators are held accountable to the voters. If the voters disagree not only with the way we draw districts but the way we spend money, the way we tax, the way we handle our state's infrastructure, the voters get the opportunity every two years to vote us out of office, if that's what they want.
BULLOCK: And I understand that, Mr. Speaker. And pardon me for the interruption, but someone could easily counter with this: Are you really being held accountable if voters are voting in districts drawn under such partisan lines that there are very, very few that are truly competitive districts. Again, that happened with the Democrats as well. It's not new, but is that really being held accountable?
MOORE: The answer is yes and I can point to recent history in the state. In 2010 when the Republicans took the majority, Republicans were elected under districts that were drawn by Democrats for Democrats.
BULLOCK: That's true.
MOORE: So there you go.
BULLOCK: Thanks for joining us.
MOORE: Good to be with you today.