Saturday News: Gerrymandering saga continues


US SUPREME COURT WILL TAKE ON NC PARTISAN REDISTRICTING IN MARCH: The Supreme Court is plunging back into the issue of whether electoral districts can be too partisan. Disputes have arisen in cases involving North Carolina's heavily Republican congressional map and a Democratic congressional district in Maryland, and the justices said Friday they will hear arguments in March. The high court could come out with the first limits on partisan politics in the drawing of electoral districts, but also could ultimately decide that federal judges have no role in trying to police political mapmaking. Justice Anthony Kennedy had said he was open to limits. He has since retired, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh has taken Kennedy's seat. He has no judicial record on the issue.

FORMER COLUMBUS COUNTY SHERIFF FILES LAWSUIT CHALLENGING OPPONENT'S VICTORY: In a lawsuit filed Friday, Lewis Hatcher asked a judge to force Columbus County officials to acknowledge that he is the county’s rightful sheriff, not the man serving in that position. Hatcher was appointed to the office in 2014 and was elected sheriff by a wide margin later that year. In November’s election, he faced S. Jody Greene in a tight race. Unofficial results show Greene, the Republican candidate, leading by fewer than 40 votes. The race has yet to be certified, and the state board of elections has been investigating. Campaign finance documents show that Greene hired Red Dome, the political consulting firm that would later come under scrutiny in an investigation into mail-in ballot irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. The political operative named by the state elections board as a “person of interest,” L. McCrae Dowless, was working for Red Dome in Columbus County, as well as in Bladen and Robeson counties, where the state’s investigation has been most intensely focused.

NC REPUBLICANS BACK OFF ON SEVERAL LEGAL CHALLENGES AGAINST COOPER: The GOP's private lawyers filed documents Friday in Wake County court withdrawing plans to appeal decisions by three-judge panels favoring Cooper. One October ruling struck down a nine-member elections board because of its composition. In August, judges threw out another half-dozen boards and commissions. Republican lawmakers already agreed last month to rework the elections board to five members and have been looking for solutions with the other voided commissions. Also Friday, the GOP attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss their appeal in a longstanding redistricting case involving racial gerrymandering that Democrats won. Oral arguments on current procedural issues and attorneys' fees had been set for next week.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN LEAVES NUMEROUS GENX WATER SAMPLES UNTESTED: Some of the surface-water tests to make sure potentially toxic chemicals are no longer discharging into the Lower Cape Fear River are on hold because of the federal government shutdown. But for now, a spokeswoman for state regulators said Friday, the agency is confident the water still meets safety standards. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has been testing the water and sending samples to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lab in Athens, Ga. But the budget impasse has closed the EPA — among other federal departments — including that lab, which can no longer process the samples. State regulators are continuing to take samples, but instead of sending them to Georgia it is storing them in a state facility in Fayetteville, where they are kept in refrigerators. How long the samples can be saved without degrading will be up to the EPA.

BEING FORCED TO WORK WITHOUT PAY PUSHES TSA WORKERS INTO SICK-IN STRIKE: Transportation Security Administration employees at airports across the country have called out sick in increased numbers since the shutdown began. Many of them are responsible for screening passengers and baggage. A union official said 150 T.S.A. workers called out sick on Friday at Kennedy International Airport in New York. The number of T.S.A. employees calling out sick at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has been three times higher than usual, another union official said. A spokesman for T.S.A. said the call-outs were not unusual around the holidays and flu season, but a federal official who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity said they seemed to be a coordinated protest. One union official said some of the workers may be looking for temporary jobs to make up for their unpaid wages.