Cooper, Stein support preliminary injunction in state Senate redistricting suit

Listen to this story (10 minutes)

  • Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein support plaintiffs seeking a federal court injunction against North Carolina's new state Senate election map.
  • Cooper and Stein, both Democrats, filed paperwork Tuesday to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in a legal challenge against a map drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly.
  • The governor and attorney general filed their documents one day after plaintiffs asked US District Judge James Dever to issue a ruling on the injunction by Dec. 29.

Gov. Roy Cooper and state Attorney General Josh Stein support the plaintiffs seeking a preliminary injunction in federal court against North Carolina’s new state Senate map. Cooper and Stein filed paperwork Tuesday to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Both are Democrats. The Republican-led General Assembly drew the challenged map.

“Plaintiffs Rodney D. Pierce and Moses Matthews are two Black voters who live in Halifax and Martin counties in northeastern North Carolina. In this lawsuit, they seek a preliminary injunction preventing the North Carolina Senate district into which their homes have been drawn from being used in future elections. They seek this relief because the enacted Senate districts illegally divide them from neighboring Black voters, preventing them from joining together to elect their preferred candidates. This division violates the Voting Rights Act,” wrote state Solicitor General Ryan Park in a memorandum on behalf of Cooper and Stein.

“The Voting Rights Act is one of the most successful and important laws in our nation’s History,” Park added. “Since its enactment in 1965, it has been essential in helping Black Americans secure a meaningful role in our nation’s civic life, especially in the South after decades of discrimination under Jim Crow.”

“But the Act’s work is far from done,” the brief from Cooper and Stein argued. “In North Carolina, the Act’s protections remain urgently needed. In recent years, Black North Carolinians have been repeatedly targeted by discriminatory laws making it harder for them to vote and exercise their political rights.”

“Fortunately, the Supreme Court reaffirmed just a few months ago that the Voting Rights Act provides robust protections to voters like Mr. Pierce and Mr. Matthews, granting them the right to join together with other Black voters to elect candidates of their choice,” Park wrote. “When the General Assembly drew new Senate districts this year, however, it failed to follow the law. It drew Plaintiffs into a serpentine district that winds its way from deep inland at the Virginia border far away to the distant Outer Banks.”

“By separating Plaintiffs from other Black voters who live nearby, the new Senate districts will have the effect of preventing Black voters in northeastern North Carolina from electing candidates of their choice,” Cooper and Stein argued.

“Because these districts clearly violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Governor and the Attorney General respectfully request that this Court grant Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction,” Park wrote. “They also respectfully request that this Court do so promptly, so that no elections are held under the illegal districts enacted by the legislature.”

Cooper and Stein filed their paperwork one day after one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers sent a letter to US District Judge James Dever. The letter asked Dever to rule on the request for a preliminary injunction by Dec. 29. Without a ruling this calendar year, plaintiffs warned that an appeal to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals could jeopardize North Carolina’s planned March 5 primary.

Dever issued a Nov. 27 order criticizing the plaintiffs’ attempt to compress the case’s timeline.

Two plaintiffs filed suit on Nov. 20 objecting to the new map for North Carolina’s 50 state Senate districts. The plaintiffs followed up with a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the map. They filed that motion on Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving.

Plaintiffs also set out a proposed timeline that would have forced the State Board of Elections and legislative leaders to respond to the requested injunction on the Monday after the holiday. The timeline called for a hearing the following Wednesday and a decision on the injunction two days later.

Dever noted in his order that the General Assembly enacted the new state Senate map through Senate Bill 758 on Oct. 25.

“Plaintiffs do not explain why they waited 26 days to file this action and 28 days to move for a pre1iminary injunction,” he wrote. “In so waiting, plaintiffs belie their ‘claim that there is an urgent need for speedy action to protect [their] rights’ or that their entitlement to a preliminary injunction is clear.”

“Moreover, plaintiffs fail to justify giving defendants one business day to respond to plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, which plaintiffs waited to file until the day before Thanksgiving,” Dever added. “Thus, plaintiffs ask the court to expedite defendants’ response to a motion before the court or defendants know the contents of that motion.”

Dever noted that the motion filed the day before Thanksgiving included a “25-page memorandum in support and five exhibits totaling over 400 pages.”

“Furthermore, plaintiffs’ request completely ignores that their case is not the only case on the court’s docket and that plaintiffs do not set this court’s schedule for holding hearings or deciding motions,” the judge wrote. “This court has over 1,000 cases. For example, this week the court will hold thirteen sentencing hearings, three revocation hearings, a civil bench trial, and two pretrial conferences in criminal cases set for jury trial during the weeks of December 4, 2023, and December 11, 2023. The court also will resolve countless motions in numerous other cases.”

“’Redistricting based on section 2 of the Voting Rights Act … is … sometimes undertaken with looming electoral deadlines. But it is not a game of ambush,” Dever wrote, quoting an earlier court ruling. “This court declines plaintiffs’ invitation to make this case a game of any kind, much less a game of ambush. Plaintiffs fail to justify their expedited schedule.”

“In opposition to this conclusion, plaintiffs contend that the ‘General Assembly unreasonably delayed six months before enacting the 2023 Senate map’ and defendants allegedly should have the expert analyses they need to respond to plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction,” Dever added. “The court rejects plaintiffs’ contention that six months is an ‘unreasonable delay’ for the General Assembly to enact a new electoral Senate map.”

“Moreover, plaintiffs seek expedited relief in this court, not defendants. Thus, plaintiffs bear the burden of justifying an expedited process,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiffs have not met that burden.”

“Plaintiffs assert they ‘worked diligently,’ but do not, for example, explain how long it took their three experts to prepare their analyses or how long they then needed to prepare their extensive filings in support of their motion for a preliminary injunction,” the judge added. “Accordingly, the arguments fail.”

“In sum, the court DENIES as meritless plaintiffs’ emergency motion to expedite,” Dever concluded. The defendants in the case can follow the normal timeline for responding to the motion for a preliminary injunction. Dever will hold a hearing “in due course if one is needed to resolve plaintiffs’ motion.”

Two individual plaintiffs filed suit on Nov. 20 against the State Board of Elections and state legislative leaders.

“Despite having ample evidence of racially polarized voting and a history of discrimination in the ‘Black Belt counties’ of northeastern North Carolina, and an obligation under the Voting Rights Act to analyze that evidence before drawing districts, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted a Senate plan that unlawfully deprives Black voters of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” according to the complaint filed on behalf of plaintiffs Rodney Pierce and Moses Matthews.

The plaintiffs are working with Washington-based attorneys from Arnold & Porter Kay Scholer, veterans of North Carolina redistricting battles. They are also working with Speas, who defended Democratic election maps against lawsuits as a state Justice Department lawyer before joining the private sector.

The suit labels North Carolina’s state Senate map, Senate Bill 758, “just the most recent episode in North Carolina’s ‘long history of race discrimination generally and race-based vote suppression in particular.’”

“The Black population in North Carolina’s Black Belt counties is sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to form a majority-minority district,” the suit argues. “Voting in the region is also highly polarized along racial lines — Black voters there are politically cohesive, but white voters vote sufficiently as a bloc to usually defeat minority candidates of choice. Nonetheless, SB 758 ‘cracks’ Black voters in the region across multiple districts, including Senate District 2, which stretches more than 160 miles from the Virginia border to Carteret County on the Atlantic Ocean.”

“When considered against the totality of the circumstances, SB 758’s cracking of Black voters in this region dilutes their voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued.