- A federal judge has rejected plaintiffs' request to issue a ruling this week in a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's new state Senate election map.
- US District Judge James Dever labeled the request "meritless." Plaintiffs filed their motion for an injunction the day before Thanksgiving. They asked Dever to call on defendants to respond on Monday, with a hearing Wednesday and a decision by Friday.
- Dever wrote that the plaintiffs' decision to wait 26 days to file suit weighs against their request to expedite the court process.
A federal judge has rejected a proposal to rule by the end of this week on an injunction in a North Carolina redistricting lawsuit. US District Judge James Dever labeled the proposed timeline “meritless” in an order issued Monday.
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 Nov. 22 motion for a preliminary injunction to block the map.
They 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 Monday. The timeline called for a hearing Wednesday and a decision on the injunction by Friday, three days before candidates are scheduled to start filing for state Senate elections.
Lawmakers filed paperwork on Nov. 22 objecting to the plaintiffs’ proposed schedule.
Dever noted in his order Monday 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.”
“Even if defendants have evidence concerning Section 2 in the legislative record, in light of plaintiffs’ 28-day delay, plaintiffs still fail to explain why the court should expect defendants to convert that evidence into a response to plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction within one business day or over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” Dever wrote.
“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 Raleigh-based Edwin Speas, who defended Democratic election maps as a state Justice Department lawyer before joining the private sector.
Pierce, who is black, is a lifelong resident of Halifax County who teachers social studies in Northampton County Schools. “Defendants have assigned him and all other Halifax County voters to Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map, thereby diluting the weight of his vote compared to the vote of white citizens,” according to the complaint. “Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map is a majority-white district in which Black voters like Mr. Pierce do not have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. A majority-Black district could be drawn incorporating all of Halifax County, including Mr. Pierce’s residence.”
Matthews, who is also black, is a retiree and has voted in Martin County since 1976. “Defendants have assigned him and all other Martin County voters to Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map, thereby diluting the weight of his vote compared to the vote of white citizens. Senate District 2 in the 2023 enacted map is a majority-white district in which Black voters like Mr. Matthews do not have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates,” according to the complaint. “A majority-Black district could be drawn incorporating all of Martin County, including Mr. Matthews’ residence.”
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.
Pierce and Matthews seek an order blocking the state Senate map from taking effect. They want a federal court to order a “remedial plan” with a “minority opportunity district in the Black Belt counties.”
Candidate filing is scheduled to begin Dec. 4 and last through Dec. 15 for the March 2024 primary.