NC Redistricting Trial Ends, Ruling Expected Soon
The NC redistricting trial ended Thursday with closing statements from attorneys on both sides. Their arguments capped a week filled with expert testimony from mathematicians and political scientists and a Wednesday afternoon bombshell that a North Carolina lawmaker used secret maps to guide NC House redistricting plans.
During closing arguments, attorney Zachary Schauf, representing plaintiffs with the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV), made the case that without court intervention, the Republican-led state legislature’s “extreme partisan gerrymanders” would “render most elections mere formalities, as is confirmed by every expert in this case.”
He closed by defending the alternative maps provided by NCLCV against claims that those maps were Democratic gerrymanders, pointing out that the legislature’s own expert, Dr. Michael Barber, “admitted that if you were optimizing for Democratic gain, you would not draw the NCLCV maps.”
Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Senior Voting Rights Counsel Hilary Harris Klein completed the plaintiffs’ case on behalf of Common Cause. Klein summarized expert testimony proving the legislature had deliberately crafted maps to insulate Republican candidates from shifting political climates, preserve their legislative majority, and erode Black representation. In particular, Klein took aim at Republican lawmakers’ claims of “race neutrality” by excluding racial data in map-making.
Phillip Strach, lead attorney for GOP lawmakers, closed the trial by doubling down on NC Rep. Destin Hall’s testimony that North Carolina’s 2021 redistricting cycle was “the most transparent redistricting process in history.” Strach told the judges they should reject “irrelevant” evidence from what he called a “Justice League” of mathematical and political science experts who used trillions of comparison districts to universally find the districts drawn by the legislature’s Republican chairs to be “extreme partisan outliers.”
The NC redistricting trial will only truly come to an end once a three-judge panel makes a ruling on the legality of the maps, which is expected by Tuesday, Jan. 11, and will allow municipalities such as Charlotte, which was not involved in the trial, to move forward with their own elections.
County to Hand Out Limited Number of Test Kits
As testing demand skyrockets, Mecklenburg County Public Health (MCPH) will provide 10,000 free at-home test kits (20,000 tests) today from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology in west Charlotte and Bojangles Coliseum in east Charlotte.
MCPH will provide two test kits consisting of four tests total per household. The kits will be available while supplies last and no appointment is necessary, though officials ask that people do not try to arrive at the sites early, as they will be turned away so as to prevent congestion caused by waiting cars.
According to the latest data released by MCPH on Friday, the county is nearing 200,000 total cases of COVID-19 among residents throughout the pandemic. As of Friday morning, there were 198,698 cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,326 deaths due to COVID-19 reported among county residents.
According to more in-depth data for cases that occurred through Tuesday, the county has seen an average of 2,315 newly confirmed infections per day over the past week compared to the 14-day average of 1,781 confirmed infections.
During the past week, an average of 374 individuals with confirmed COVID-19 infections were hospitalized at acute-care facilities in Mecklenburg County, according to MCPH. At a press conference on Friday, Dr. Sid Fletcher with Novant Health said 96% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Novant facilities are unvaccinated, while 100% of those currently on ventilators are unvaccinated.
Incidents at StarMed Testing Site Lead to Move
With testing sites jammed to capacity for weeks on end thanks to the Omicron variant and people’s patience running thin as sites have regularly had to close early, things came to a head on Wednesday when StarMed Healthcare had to shut down its South Boulevard testing site after two separate confrontations involving guns were reported that day.
According to WSOC, one incident involved a man who had just returned to his home in the Starmount neighborhood from work to find his driveway blocked by would-be testers, as has been an ongoing problem along Larkfield Lane near the testing site. The man, who reportedly works as a security guard elsewhere, confronted the person while still wearing his holstered weapon, though he claims he never touched it during the confrontation.
Another report shared by CMPD stated that a call came in that same morning claiming that a man had been waving a rifle at a staff member at the site. StarMed reps confirmed to WBTV that the man brought a shotgun and two dogs to the site to complain about the traffic. CMPD reported to the scene and “determined that no crime had occurred.”
During a press conference on Friday, officials announced StarMed will be moving the South Boulevard testing site to the Archdale light rail station.
State Orders Mecklenburg County Jail to Depopulate
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden says his department is working to reduce the population of the Uptown jail after state officials informed him that staff shortages from recent COVID-19 outbreaks there “pose an imminent threat to safety of the inmates and staff.”
A letter from Chris Wood, chief jail inspector with NC Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), stated that an inspection of Mecklenburg County Jail Central on Dec. 21 coupled with an investigation into recent incidents at the jail “leave doubt as to whether the inmates can be safely evacuated from the facility in the event of an emergency.”
Wood also cited a recent increase in incidents resulting in injury to staff and people incarcerated at the jail as a reason to recommend that the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) begin work immediately to decrease the population at the jail from 1,407 to less than 1,000.
In an open-letter response, MCSO said it has begun working on that request by reducing the juvenile population and reallocating personnel from the juvenile detention center in north Charlotte to the Uptown jail, while also implementing mandatory overtime for current staff and reallocating personnel from other divisions across the organization.
Gold Line to Remain Fare Free
CATS announced on Monday that, due to sporadic service and an unreliable schedule, streetcar service on the new CATS Gold Line will remain free as we move into the new year. Fares were scheduled to be implemented on Jan. 1.
In a video message posted Monday, CATS CEO John Lewis cited labor shortages as the reason for not reaching the frequency levels CATS had set as a goal upon launching the Gold Line.
“Until we’re able to provide our riders with consistent, reliable service on the Gold Line, service will continue to be fare-free,” Lewis said.