State leaders on Friday responded to the state attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from litigation regarding the state’s legislative redistricting. Instead, state Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel will work the cases on behalf of the state.
In a prepared statement, House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate Leader Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said, “The maps passed by the General Assembly are not gerrymanders. If Josh Stein’s partisan political bias has blinded him to the fact that our maps abide by the strictest anti-gerrymandering standards in the entire country, then perhaps it’s best that he is personally recusing himself. He should have done the same with his clear conflict of interest in the Voter ID case. We still expect him to fulfill his oath of office and number one responsibility to voters by designating the full staff and resources necessary to vigorously defend the laws of this state.”
Recusing himself from the case allows Stein, a Democrat who very recently left the state Senate, the freedom to speak out publicly against the state’s redistricting plan, as many of his former colleagues in the legislature have.
In a statement released Friday Stein said, “In a democracy, voters should choose their elected representatives, not the other way around. Partisan gerrymandering turns this fundamental principle upside down. It rigs the system against the voters in favor of the politicians who draw their own districts. Partisan gerrymandering undermines democracy itself. It’s wrong and damaging, no matter which party does it.”
Stein’s decision does not quite mirror that of his predecessor’s, when now Governor Roy Cooper decided to give up the state defense of the state’s same-sex marriage ban in July of 2014.
Cooper, at the time, said in a press release that continuing to defend the constitutional ban was a futile effort.
“Simply put, it is time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Cooper said that with four pending cases challenging the law and North Carolina under the same court that ruled in Virginia’s case, the writing on the wall is apparent.
“Our attorneys have vigorously defended North Carolina marriage law, which is their job,” Cooper said. “But today we know our law almost surely will be overturned as well.”
Stein however has delegated oversight authority and responsibility for the DOJ’s defense of the maps to Grayson Kelley, chief deputy attorney general.
Kelley will oversee the department’s representation in the redistricting case.
Alec McC. Peters, senior deputy attorney general for special litigation, has been lead counsel on three of the cases and will continue to have an active role, according to the release.
“To avoid any questions about the professionalism of the department’s representation of the state in cases involving claims of political gerrymandering, I have delegated my oversight authority for the Department’s defense of those cases to career attorneys,” Stein said. “I have taken this action because this is no ordinary disagreement over policy. As Attorney General, I have defended and will continue to defend laws without regard to whether I agree with them as a matter of policy. But partisan gerrymandering goes to the heart of the health of our democracy, and I will speak out publicly on this critical issue.”