N.C. justices side with lawmakers on map disclosures

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court has sided with legislative leaders who withheld e-mails and other documents between them and state-funded private attorneys about redistricting maps approved in 2011. The court ruled that those documents can be confidential.

Most of the justices overturned a decision by a panel of three trial court judges who are hearing lawsuits challenging the boundaries drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly.

The dozens of individuals and groups suing asked the legislators and their lawyers to give them correspondence on legal advice about drawing the maps, presenting the maps to General Assembly committees and getting them cleared by federal authorities. The plaintiffs said the documents would bolster their case to throw out the new lines.

The three-judge panel last spring told the mapmakers to provide the documents leading up to the maps’ final approval in November 2011, citing a 1983 law in ruling the documents were no longer confidential. The attorneys for the Republican legislators challenged the decision, saying the law didn’t cancel attorney-client privilege, which goes back hundreds of years to English common law.

In the Jan. 25 majority opinion, Justice Barbara Jackson wrote that the court couldn’t find solid proof that the General Assembly intended to remove the attorney-client privilege for redistricting matters in the law.

The Legislature was “clear and unambiguous” in three other situations whether it eliminated the privilege, Jackson wrote, but not in redistricting. There’s also no reference to the Public Records law in the redistricting confidentiality law, she said.

“We will not lightly assume such a waiver by a coordinate branch of government,” she wrote, so “we are compelled to exercise judicial restraint and defer to the General Assembly’s judgment regarding the scope of its legislative confidentiality.”

Associate Justice Robin Hudson gave a dissenting opinion, writing that the attorney-client privilege is inapplicable in redistricting matters because the 1983 law says the documents are no longer confidential once the maps are given final approval.

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