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US court says North Carolina gerrymander is illegal — seeks new congressional map by November

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A federal court ruled on Monday that North Carolina Republicans illegally drew up U.S. congressional districts in the state to benefit their party, suggesting that new lines be crafted before November’s election.

The three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina said in a 321-page opinion that Republican legislators responsible for the map conducted unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering to dilute the impact of Democratic votes.

“That is precisely what the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly sought to do here,” the opinion said.

The panel gave parties until Thursday to file their recommendations to fix the problem.

The decision could have national implications in this November’s battle for control of Congress. Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to gain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives that could thwart Republican President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.

Among the suggestions from the judges were holding state nominating primaries in November with new district lines that remove illegal partisan bias and then holding a general election before the new U.S. Congress is seated in January 2019.

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The North Carolina dispute centered on a congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Republican-led legislature in 2016 after a court found that Republican lawmakers improperly used race as a factor when redrawing certain U.S. House districts after the 2010 census.

The Republican lawmaker in charge of the plan said it was crafted to maintain Republican dominance because “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.”

Party officials were not immediately available for comment on the court’s decision.

Republicans in 2016 won 10 of the 13 House districts – 77 percent of them – despite getting just 53 percent of the statewide vote, nearly the same result as in 2014.

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In June, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that Republicans drew the boundaries to ensure electoral victories for their party.

But the justices sent the case back to the federal three-judge panel to reconsider whether the plaintiffs, including a group of Democratic voters, had the necessary legal standing to sue in the case.

“If this opinion stands … the court may well order new districts be drawn in time for the 2018 elections,” Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on his election law blog.

“North Carolina’s gerrymandering was one of the most brazen in the nation, where state legislative leaders proudly pronounced it a partisan gerrymander,” he wrote.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Peter Cooney

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Revealing gruesome new details of Khashoggi murder, UN report says ‘inconceivable’ crown prince not involved

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In a thorough and damning report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi released Wednesday, United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard found that Khashoggi was "the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing" that was likely orchestrated by top officials in the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources, and finances," Callamard wrote. "Every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the crown prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched."

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Critics lament as 126 House Democrats join forces with GOP to hand Trump ‘terrifying’ mass domestic spying powers

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Privacy advocates and civil liberties defenders are expressing outrage after the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night voted down a bipartisan amendment designed to end, as one group put it, the U.S. government's "most egregious mass surveillance practices" first revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a final vote of 253-175, it was 126 Democrats who joined with 127 Republicans to vote against an amendment introduced by Rep Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) that would have closed loopholes in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that critics charge has allowed the NSA to abuse warrantless surveillance capabilities and target the emails, text messages, and internet activity of U.S. citizens and residents. See the full roll call here.

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Pilots, including Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, tell US Congress more training needed on 737 MAX

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US pilots called Wednesday for enhanced pilot training on the Boeing 737 MAX before the aircraft is returned to service after being grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes.

The pilots -- including Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III, who famously landed a damaged plane on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 -- pushed back against the aviation giant's assurances that pilots will only need to review the 737 MAX modifications in a computer program.

Daniel Carey, president of the Allied Pilots Association, told a congressional panel he was encouraged by changes Boeing made to a flight system seen as a factor in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed 346 people.

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