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Opinion Living with Stephenson

Anyone with kids tries to drill into them that their actions carry consequences, sometimes far into the future.

The same may apply to North Carolina legislators as they begin redrawing the legislative and congressional district lines which determine who votes for whom.

The process can be bloody, with legislative leaders and their map-drawing lieutenants "double-bunking" colleagues, drawing two incumbents into the same district.

The double-bunking is typically aimed at legislators of the minority party. Sometimes geography and shifting populations mean that majority-party legislators get hung out to dry too.

During the last round of legislative redistricting a decade ago, Democratic Sen. Tony Moore of Pitt County became a redistricting casualty. After being put into the same district as a fellow Democrat, he responded by changing his party affiliation to Republican.

It didn't help. He still lost his legislative seat.

Moore serves as an example of how legislators don't look at redistricting as just the business of politics. It becomes personal.

Democrats controlled the process during Moore's tenure in the legislature.

Republicans will control the map-drawing when legislators return to Raleigh next month to approve new districts for the state House, state Senate and North Carolina's congressional seats.

Just like in 2001, the maps aren't expected to stand without a court challenge. A decade ago, when Democrats drew the maps, the challenge came from Republican legislators, party officials and activists.

The legal challenge ultimately led to a significant and somewhat novel court decision, Stephenson v. Bartlett.

The state Supreme Court ruled that a map-drawing provision in the state constitution requiring that legislative districts follow county lines had not been wholly undone by the Voting Rights Act and court decisions supporting the principle of one-person, one-vote. The state's high court ruled that the "whole county provision" should apply except in cases where it interfered with the federal law and the one-person, one-vote principle.

The ruling went on to lay out a criteria for legislators to follow in piecing together a map.

Then-Justice Bob Orr, who agreed with the larger decision, dissented regarding the criteria, saying that the state constitution reserved the nuts and bolts for legislators to determine.

As a matter of law, Orr may have been right. It doesn't matter. The decision has been made, the criteria established.

It has had and will continue to have the effect of limiting partisan gerrymandering, though that doesn't seem to be recognized in the initial release of proposals for new majority-minority districts.

At least a few of those proposed districts meander across several county lines in bizarre ways that tend to look an awful lot like the North Carolina congressional district disallowed in a famous federal case, Shaw v. Reno.

The map drawers might also want to consider a line from the Stephenson ruling.

"To the maximum extent practicable, such (Voting Rights Act) districts shall also comply with the legal requirements of the (whole county provision)," the ruling states.

Sometimes you have to live with the consequences of your past actions.





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