Saturday, February 4, 2017

Trial Monday; Judge says Greensboro can hold referendum on redistricting

"Some 18 months after it was filed, the lawsuit over state-mandated changes to City Council elections is coming to trial.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will begin presiding over the trial, to be held in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in downtown Greensboro.

It began in July 2015 with a deceptively simple file name: “The City of Greensboro v. The Guilford County Board of Elections.”

...Q. There are a lot of redistricting trials going on in North Carolina right now. Which one is this?

A. The one that caused such a ruckus between the Greensboro City Council and Republican members of the General Assembly.

In July 2015, state legislators passed a law that, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, would radically change how the council is elected starting this year.

The law eliminated the current council setup of one mayor, five district representatives and three at-large members — those elected by all city voters.

In other words, you had the chance to vote for five people.

So Greensboro's White population could control the City's black population
via three At-Large councilmembers

The new setup, which is the subject of the lawsuit, eliminates the three at-large members. Instead, the council would have eight members from eight newly drawn districts.

Which been proven to eliminate racial leverage of white majority populations
by increasing the percentage of minority representation

...State Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) championed the changes, saying her constituents asked for them. The changes also offered better representation to the black community, she said.

Council members were furious and said Wade’s motives were political.

Q. Will there be a jury?

A. Nope. Eagles will hold a “bench trial,” which means she’s the decider. The trial should last two days. She could issue a ruling immediately or take some time to weigh the evidence.

Q. When are the redistricting changes scheduled to take effect?

A. This year, an election year for the City Council. The primary election is Oct. 10, and the general election is Nov. 7.

Candidates can file for office July 7-21 with the Guilford County Board of Elections.

...We’ve already established that the state House and Senate changed the council’s makeup. But — and this is important — the city and the Southern Coalition had to sue the government agency responsible for enacting the changes: The Guilford County Board of Elections.

However, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said from the get-go that the county had nothing to win or lose in the case, and therefore had no interest in defending it.

...Q. Wait a minute. Who’ll sit at the defendants’ table Monday when the trial starts?

A. Payne, the Guilford County attorney.

But don’t expect a Matlock-esque performance. Payne said in December that taking a side in the lawsuit would call into question whether the county elections board was fulfilling its duty to hold fair and impartial elections.

So rather than argue, Payne will inform.

“We have an obligation to participate in the trial, and, as a defendant and an officer of the court, we must provide as accurate information as possible,” he said.

“I’ll be offering observations rather than arguments.”

...Q. What has been the cost of this lawsuit?

A. In dollars or years off this reporter’s life?

Q. Dollars, please.

A. The city has spent nearly $261,000 on outside attorneys since March 2015.