Meg Kinnard
Meg covers national politics and lives in South Carolina.
MegKinnardAPmkinnard@ap.org

South Carolina Republicans want judge off redistricting case

January 7, 2022 GMT
FILE - In this Wednesday, July 28, 2021, file photo, people look over the current South Carolina Senate districts at a public meeting by a Senate subcommittee on redistricting, in Sumter, S.C. South Carolina Republican legislative leaders want to toss a judge from a lawsuit over redistricting plans, arguing in papers filed Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that the jurist can't fairly consider the case in part because of prior legal work on such cases. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, July 28, 2021, file photo, people look over the current South Carolina Senate districts at a public meeting by a Senate subcommittee on redistricting, in Sumter, S.C. South Carolina Republican legislative leaders want to toss a judge from a lawsuit over redistricting plans, arguing in papers filed Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that the jurist can't fairly consider the case in part because of prior legal work on such cases. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, July 28, 2021, file photo, people look over the current South Carolina Senate districts at a public meeting by a Senate subcommittee on redistricting, in Sumter, S.C. South Carolina Republican legislative leaders want to toss a judge from a lawsuit over redistricting plans, arguing in papers filed Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that the jurist can't fairly consider the case in part because of prior legal work on such cases. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, July 28, 2021, file photo, people look over the current South Carolina Senate districts at a public meeting by a Senate subcommittee on redistricting, in Sumter, S.C. South Carolina Republican legislative leaders want to toss a judge from a lawsuit over redistricting plans, arguing in papers filed Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that the jurist can't fairly consider the case in part because of prior legal work on such cases. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, July 28, 2021, file photo, people look over the current South Carolina Senate districts at a public meeting by a Senate subcommittee on redistricting, in Sumter, S.C. South Carolina Republican legislative leaders want to toss a judge from a lawsuit over redistricting plans, arguing in papers filed Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that the jurist can't fairly consider the case in part because of prior legal work on such cases. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Republican legislative leaders want to toss a judge from a lawsuit over redistricting plans, arguing in papers filed Thursday that the jurist can’t fairly consider the case in part because of prior legal work on such cases.

Prior to his appointment to the federal bench, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel was lead counsel on a redistricting case that followed the 2000 census, “with a singular focus in opposition to redistricting plans passed by a Republican-controlled legislature,” attorneys for House Speaker Jay Lucas and the Republicans leading two key committees wrote in a federal court filing.

In that case, they wrote, Gergel “took positions similar to those advanced by the Plaintiffs in this litigation.”

As an attorney in another case several years earlier, Gergel “was opposed and adverse” to redistricting plans also put forth by Republicans, Lucas’ attorneys wrote, and therefore shouldn’t now sit on a three-judge panel considering a new legal challenge to GOP lawmakers’ redistricting plans stemming from the 2020 Census.

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Gergel has been appointed to a judicial panel mulling a lawsuit filed by two civil rights groups alleging that South Carolina’s newly drawn legislative maps discriminate against Black people by diluting their voting power. The groups have also accused lawmakers of taking too long to approve U.S. House maps, thereby preventing potential candidates from researching the new districts and not giving enough time for lawsuits to be considered before the two-week filing period starts March 16.

As a newly minted federal judge, Gergel disqualified himself from hearing a redistricting case that arose after the 2010 Census, something Lucas’ attorneys argued further makes the case that he should recuse himself from this one.

Then, they wrote, Gergel acknowledged that, since he had previously deposed or cross-examined many of the likely witnesses, someone could reasonably “conclude that service of the former adversarial attorney in the 2002 reapportionment litigation in the present legislative reapportionment case on the three judge panel would create an appearance of partiality.”

House lawmakers’ suggested congressional map doesn’t significantly redraw the boundaries of the state’s existing districts and resembles a proposal put forth by a Senate committee in November. Early analysis shows the state would likely continue to elect six Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House with those districts.

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The state House maps have been criticized by groups like the League of Women Voters and the NAACP as breaking up some like-minded communities to protect incumbents and ensure Republicans maintain their current balance of power. They also pit five sets of incumbents against each other — three Democratic pairs and two Republican — if they choose to run again in 2022.

An analysis of the proposed House districts by the Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project determined they would likely see 83 Republicans elected — two more than the GOP’s current advantage among the 124 seats.

The 2020 U.S. Census saw more than 500,000 people added to South Carolina. But that growth was uneven, as people flocked to coastal areas and rural areas saw populations drop, so lawmakers now have to retool district boundaries.

Attorneys for Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and legislative Republicans have asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.