ICYMI: Senate Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting

The Senate Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting had its first meeting on November 8 – where they were given presentations by HB 717 sponsor Representative Justin Burr, Brad Fowler of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Judges Joe Buckner, Brad Letts, Joe Crosswhite, Michael Crowell, and Gerry Cohen.

Republican Senator Dan Bishop asked Burr outright if his new maps were part of “some evil partisan plot” or an intentional “racial gerrymander” after extending his sympathies to Burr in hopes that his feelings have not been hurt by the negativity surrounding HB 717.

Senator Blue, Democrats leader in the Senate, asked Burr several questions about cost analysis, population distribution, and judicial caseloads. Burr repeatedly directed Blue to Blankenship v. Bartlett, a 2009 case that debated unconstitutional judicial districts in Wake County, and ended each of his answers with an invitation for Blue to submit his own legislation.

Senator Chaudhuri’s questions focused on Burr’s public engagement, or lack thereof, with stakeholders during the initial drafting process. When asked if he had presented to the North Carolina Courts Commission, Burr said that only half of the members showed up to the presentation, and that “proved just how useless that body has become.” Bishop then chimed in, asking Chaudhuri why he hasn’t submitted his own legislation that includes stakeholder support.

Senator McKissick followed Chaudhuri’s line of questioning, asking for more detail about constituent involvement. In response to Burr’s vague answers—“no interest group has been ignored”—McKissick said, “with all due respect,” that his own practice does not involve “secretly” rolling out a bill then blaming dissent on peoples’ stubbornness or reluctance to change.

After approximately 50 minutes of questions from Senators Blue, Bishop, Rabon, Chaudhuri, and McKissick, Senator Daniel signaled that it was time to wrap up and delegated “the last five minutes” and one question to the Committee’s sole present female senator, Terry Van Duyn. During these five minutes, as Van Duyn asked questions about her home district and why it is so apparent that the districts were drawn with political intentions, aides shut off the lights and loudly prepared a computer and projector for the next presentation.

The rest of the presentations came from North Carolina judges, both active and retired. During these presentations, Senator Bishop frequently implied, if not said, that judges only value the status quo after listening to several judges testify that decreasing the number of districts will negatively impact the citizens of this state.

President elect of the Conference of Superior Court Judges, Judge Brad Letts, stated that the Conference has not taken a stance on HB 717 no less than four times after being asked repeatedly what the superior court judges thought about the legislation.