Special Master Special: Is it really called a special master?

A three-judge federal panel hired a special master to redraw maps proposed by the North Carolina General Assembly. What will the special master do, and what does it mean for redistricting in North Carolina?

What just happened? We got a special master.The three-judge panel responsible for ruling on the North Carolina v. Covington racial gerrymandering case officially hired a special master this week.

What will the special master do? Check the constitutionality of districts.The special master will help determine if districts in the newest maps are unconstitutional. If so, the special master will bust out his pencils and redraw constitutional districts by December 1st. The court is suspicious of districts in Wake, Mecklenberg, Hope, Guilford, Wayne and Sampson counties.

What’s the history of this case? The legislature racially gerrymandered state districts.Citizens sued the state legislature in 2015, claiming the legislature intentionally drew state senate and house districts that diluted votes based on race. The federal panel of judges that heard the case sided with the citizens. Nonetheless, the three-judge panel gave the legislature two opportunities to draw constitutional maps. After failing to draw constitutional maps in 2016, they had another chance to submit new maps on September 1st. A week after the legislature submitted their new maps, watchdog groups objected, claiming that the maps still diluted African-American votes.Republicans’ objections? They have several.Republicans in the legislature have several objections to the special master, the most ironic being they followed the criteria that they made and passed without any democratic support in August. This criteria included protecting incumbents...almost 30 of whom are representing unconstitutional districts. They also argue that the master will be biased, that they should have another chance, and that the special master should not have been appointed without the court first identifying exactly how their new maps are unconstitutional. The three judge panel does not care. 

In conclusion: Is this the end?This might be the end of the road for the Republicans’ supermajority control in the state house and senate. Unless they somehow keep control of their unconstitutional districts. Or 75% of North Carolinians decide they are pleased with the legislature when they go to the polls in 2018. Or the Supreme Court rules against the special master’s districts. Expect an update in January.