By | September 10, 2019

 By , NC Policy Watch

The law firm representing Republican legislative leaders in an ongoing partisan gerrymandering case may have just polluted the remedial mapmaking process by sending them partisan data prohibited from use. 

A court last week ordered lawmakers to draw new House and Senate maps after they used unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering to create the 2017 legislative maps, diluting Democratic voting strength. They have 10 days to enact new districts.

The redistricting committees from both chambers met today for the first time to begin the process. They had decided to use baseline maps produced by a plaintiffs’ expert in Common Cause v. Lewis, Jowei Chen.

Chen created 2,000 simulated maps for each chamber for the two-week Common Cause trial — 1,000 maps using only traditional redistricting criteria and 1,000 maps using that criteria and taking incumbency protection into account. Lawmakers did not have the maps and asked both their counsel and the plaintiffs’ counsel for the information.

Chen agreed to send the appropriate map data to lawmakers Monday evening, but in the meantime, Ogletree Deakins — the law firm for the defense — sent the experts’ original files, which contain extensive partisan data, including the partisan scoring of the simulated maps, according to an email sent to the legislature.

The court expressly prohibited lawmakers from using or considering any partisan data at all in the remedial process.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked legislative staff to immediately delete the email containing the partisan data and to destroy the data if they already downloaded it. The email also asks staff to inform the plaintiffs if the information was shared with anyone.

The email from Ogletree Deakins was sent just after 4:20 p.m. Monday, and it was sent to all members of the House redistricting committee in addition to legislative staff. The email response to the legislature from the plaintiffs’ attorneys was sent about 20 minutes later. It’s not clear if the initial email containing the partisan data was an accident or intentional.

Both committees remain in recess, but are expected to return shortly.

Follow reporter Melissa Boughton on Twitter for live updates.