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North Carolina Court Rules Electoral Maps Must Be Redrawn

Activists at the Supreme Court opposed to partisan gerrymandering hold up representations of congressional districts from North Carolina, left, and Maryland, right, in March 2019.

Activists at the Supreme Court opposed to partisan gerrymandering hold up representations of congressional districts from North Carolina, left, and Maryland, right, in March 2019. Carolyn Kaster/AP Images

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Texas leaders discuss background checks for guns … License plate changes in New York spark debate and conspiracies … Nashville mayor asks for repeal of legislation penalizing sanctuary cities.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state’s legislative district map is unconstitutional and the result of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” done by Republican state legislators. “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,” said the ruling. The three judges, two Democrats and one Republican, reached a unanimous verdict. “The conclusions of this Court today reflect the unanimous and best efforts of the undersigned trial judges—each hailing from different geographic regions and each with differing ideological and political outlooks—to apply core constitutional principles to this complex and divisive topic,” they wrote. The court instructed the legislature, which is Republican-controlled, to draw new maps, but is setting new guidelines for them to follow. The maps must now be drawn in the next two weeks, cannot use data to try to create partisan advantages, and the process must be public. The court also appointed a referee to review the maps before they are enacted, and gave that appointee the power to reject and redraw maps if necessary. A top North Carolina Republican lawmaker said they will not appeal. Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, the group that filed the suit, called the ruling a victory. “It’s a huge win, particularly for the voters of North Carolina, just to know that this entire decade they have never had an opportunity to actually vote for legislators in constitutional districts,” he said. The ruling could now be significant for other states, as the Supreme Court recently ruled that gerrymandering cases cannot be heard in federal courts. Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, said that because the case was ruled on state precedent, other advocates may now use the same tactic. “[The case] suggests even though the federal courts have stepped away from partisan gerrymandering, there may be remedies in state courts, and people should look at their state constitutions. They didn’t bring it under the U.S. Constitution, they brought it solely under state provisions, that will be what insulates it,” he said. [New York Times; Vox; News & Observer]

BACKGROUND CHECKS | The suspect in a West Texas shooting last weekend bought his gun through a private, in-person sale that allowed him to avoid completing a background check, which would have likely flagged the fact that he was federally barred from owning a firearm. Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted about the circumstances behind the gun in the shooting, which happened in Odessa and left seven people dead. “Not only did the Odessa gunman have a criminal history...he also previously failed a gun purchase background check in Texas...& he didn’t go thru a background check for the gun he used in Odessa. We must keep guns out of criminals’ hands,” he wrote. Lt. Gov Dan Patrick said that the federal government should address the loophole. “I believe as a supporter of the Second Amendment we should protect that family transfer or family sale, but any stranger to stranger...we do know that that’s a real loophole in the law, and I think the NRA needs to get behind the president on that issue and really address that issue,” Patrick said. President Trump dismissed the idea of universal background checks the day after the shooting. “Background checks—I will say that for the most part, sadly...as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it,” he said. [Texas Tribune; The Hill; Politico]

LICENSE ‘PLATEGATE’ | Some Republican legislators in New York are accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of rigging the state’s voting system for selecting a new license plate, which was between four designs featuring the Statue of Liberty and one that featured a bridge named for Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, the former governor of the state. The Republicans have deemed the situation “PlateGate” and said that the four designs with the statue are meant to split the vote so that the design with the new Cuomo bridge—which replaced the Tappan Zee bridge over the Hudson River—emerges victorious. “Certainly there’s a number of landmarks that could be used,” said Republican Rep. Brian Kolb. “I don’t think the Mario Cuomo bridge is one of them.” Democratic and Republican legislators have also taken issue with the proposed rollout of the new plates, which would debut under a policy that requires all plates over 10 years old be replaced at a cost of $25 per plate. About three million drivers would have to replace their plates between 2020 and 2022, bringing in $75 million in revenue. State Sen. David Carlucci, a Democrat, said that the fee is too high. “There are people who are struggling to pay every bill. So another $25 is a big deal,” he said. But the governor said that he is acting on legislation passed in 2009, before he arrived in office. “Look, if the Legislature comes back and they want to change the cost of a license plate, they can do that...They set the fee 10 years ago. You want to reduce it? I’m all in favor of it,” he said. [WHEC; New York Times

SANCTUARY CITIES | Nashville Mayor David Briley is calling on state lawmakers to repeal legislation that penalizes municipalities in the state that establish themselves as sanctuary cities. Briley asked the legislature for help following news that the city’s probation department was actively assisting federal immigration agents who were looking for undocumented immigrants in the city. A new state law won’t allow cities to tap state economic development dollars if they don’t comply with a state ban on sanctuary policies. "The city of Nashville believes that [the legislation] is bad for Nashville, and as a result, it's bad for the state. It's bad because it makes it harder for us to keep our city safe. Harder for us to keep our city healthy. Harder for us to educate the children that live in this city. Ultimately, everybody is going to pay for those difficulties,” he said. Nashville city councilor Fabian Bedne said he thinks the state should stop trying to regulate the city. "I think the state needs to stop messing with Nashville and instead help us with the tools that we need to be successful in the city," he said. [Tennessean; FOX 17 Nashville] 

911 DISPATCH | An internal review is underway in Fort Smith, Arkansas, after a woman died while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Debra Stevens drowned in her car when she was trapped in floodwater. As she spoke with dispatcher Donna Reneau, she was scolded for driving into the water and told it would be a “lesson” for the future. “A lot of people aren’t going to put themselves in danger just because you put yourself in danger,” said Reneau, as an explanation for why rescue workers had not yet arrived at Stevens’ car. The Fort Smith police department released a statement saying that “while the operator’s response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds calloused and uncaring at times, sincere efforts were being made to locate and save Mrs. Stevens.” The department also said they had been “inundated with 911 calls” following rising flood waters, and were not able to identify the location of Stevens’ car quickly enough to save her. Police spokesman Aric Mitchell said that Reneau “did nothing criminally wrong...I'm not even going to go so far as to she violated policy." Mayor George McGill is now calling for a review of communication policies within the police department. "Fort Smith citizens can rest assured that all of our first responders, all of those that were in direct contact with this incident, we're going to overturn every rock and make sure we did everything the correct way," he said.  [USA TODAY; KTVZ]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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