Saturday News: The tyranny of the mapmakers


NC GERRYMANDERING LAWSUITS TO BE ARGUED IN 2019: Both suits allege that the state legislature engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering when it was redrawing political districts to comply with court orders after losing separate lawsuits over racial gerrymandering. One deals with the U.S. Congress, and the other deals with the North Carolina General Assembly. It’s an important case because whichever party controls the state legislature after the 2020 elections will be in charge of the state’s next round of redistricting in 2021, following the 2020 census. The lawsuit against the legislature and other state officials was filed by the N.C. Democratic Party and the government watchdog group Common Cause. In the latest developments in that lawsuit, Republican legislators moved the case to federal court on Dec. 14. Several days later they issued a press release saying they don’t want the case to be heard in state courts because they think judges in North Carolina might be too liberal to give them a fair trial.

NEW SHERIFF MAY HAVE STOLEN ELECTION IN COLUMBUS COUNTY: Republican Jody Greene appeared to defeat Democratic Sheriff Lewis Hatcher last month by 34 votes – out of more than 18,000 cast. Protests were filed alleging election irregularities in majority black precincts, and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement opened an investigation. Nancy Hill, mayor of the small town of Brunswick, filed one of the protests, saying that she heard some absentee ballots were collected and not mailed in. "There are, I think, 151 absentee ballots that have not been accounted for," Hill said Friday, adding that she was compiling a list of names to hand over to state investigators. "I won't call it voter fraud, but I do believe there was some vote stealing as far as the absentee ballots were concerned." Greene had himself sworn in as sheriff on Dec. 3, and his name is now on the sign outside the sheriff's office and the front door. But state officials said that action was premature, noting the outstanding protests mean the election results cannot be certified.

JUSTICE GINSBURG'S BROKEN RIBS MAY HAVE SAVED HER LIFE: While it's hard to refer to good luck and cancer diagnoses in the same breath, this is the second time for Ginsburg that cancerous growths have been detected at an apparently early stage through unrelated medical tests. The nodules on her lung were found during X-rays and other tests Ginsburg had after she fractured ribs in a fall in her Supreme Court office on Nov. 7, the court said. In 2009, routine follow-up screening after Ginsburg's colorectal cancer 10 years earlier detected a lesion on her pancreas. Doctors operated and removed the growth they'd previously spotted, plus a smaller one they hadn't seen before. The larger growth was benign, while the smaller one was malignant. Doctors who are not involved in Ginsburg's care said she may have gotten lucky again, although they caution it is too soon to know. "This is just luck" that the growths were found through those rib X-rays because accidentally discovered lung tumors tend to be early-stage when surgery works best, said Dr. Giuseppe Giaccone, an oncologist at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

PARTIAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN BEGINS AFTER BORDER WALL IMPASSE: A partial federal shutdown took hold early Saturday after Democrats refused to meet President Donald Trump's demands for $5 billion to start erecting his cherished Mexican border wall, a chaotic postscript for Republicans in the waning days of their two-year reign controlling government. Vice President Mike Pence, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney left the Capitol late Friday after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no apparent compromise. "We don't have a deal. We're still talking," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters. Late Friday, Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum telling them to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown." He wrote that administration officials were "hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration" — an expectation that was widely shared.

AFGHANI SECURITY FORCES WORRIED ABOUT TRUMP'S PULLOUT PLAN: The Taliban welcomed news of the U.S. plan to withdraw half its troops in Afghanistan by the summer, as Afghan generals warned it would be a blow to the morale of the country's beleaguered security forces who come under daily attacks from the insurgent fighters. The announcement seems certain to complicate efforts to reach a peace deal, mostly because it gives the Taliban leverage by allowing them to hold off until a total U.S. withdrawal, or step up their demands over a weakened Afghan government. "I believe the Taliban will see this as a reason to stall, and therefore it disincentivizes the Taliban to actually talk to the Afghan government, which it has refused to do," said Bill Roggio, an Afghanistan analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Afghanistan's security forces rely heavily on U.S. airpower against both Taliban and an upstart Islamic State affiliate, and Afghan military officials note the announcement by the Trump administration comes as the country's security is at its worst since 2014, when more than 100,000 NATO troops pulled out of the country and handed off security to Afghans.