Legislative leaders argue against N.C. congressional map, continue plea to drop their appeal

Attorney Phil Strach (Image from WRAL.com)

Listen to this story (4 minutes)

  • Top N.C. legislative leaders have filed arguments against a court-imposed congressional map, even though they want to drop their appeal against the map.
  • A legal dispute involving state courts' role in drawing the state's congressional map is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

State legislative leaders have met an Aug. 1 deadline to submit complaints about North Carolina’s congressional election map to the N.C. Supreme Court. At the same time, those legislative leaders still seek to drop their appeal challenging the court-imposed map.

Lawmakers filed paperwork July 13 asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal. Plaintiffs in the Harper v. Hall redistricting case objected to that request. The court has not addressed the issue.

“As a result of not having heard from this Court as to the pending motion to dismiss, Legislative Defendants are filing their Appellants Brief contemporaneously with this Notice, but do not intend such filing to be a waiver of their Motion to Dismiss,” wrote attorney Phillip Strach on Monday. Strach represents top legislative leaders. “To the contrary, should this Court grant Legislative Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss then Legislative Defendants request that the Clerk’s office strike Legislative Defendants’ Appellants Brief from the docket as a part of this Court’s ruling on the Motion to Dismiss.”

The appellants’ brief sets out the legislators’ arguments against a trial court imposing its own map for 2022 congressional elections. Trial judges adopted that map drawn by three outside appointed “special masters” after rejecting a map drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly.

“The superior court failed to exclude conflicted experts and relied on incompetent evidence to support its erroneous findings that the remedial congressional plan passed by the General Assembly failed to meet this [Supreme] Court’s standards for measuring partisan bias,” Strach wrote. “In concluding that a different plan — a plan of its own making — was necessary for the 2022 elections of North Carolina’s congressional representatives, the superior court failed to show necessary deference to the Legislature and infringed on the lawmaking process. This Court should reverse the superior court’s determination that the General Assembly’s remedial congressional plan was unconstitutional.”

Even if the state Supreme Court agrees to dismiss lawmakers’ appeal, the legal dispute over North Carolina’s congressional map will continue. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider the issue in a separate case this fall called Moore v. Harper.

The congressional map is one of three up for consideration by the state Supreme Court in October. If justices agree to drop the appeal related to the congressional map, they will hear arguments from the legislature’s critics against maps for state House and Senate races.

In a 4-3 party-line split, the court’s four Democratic justices agreed last week to speed up the timeline for considering the case. The court will hear oral arguments at some point between Oct. 3 and Oct. 18. At the same time that justices agreed to an expedited review, the court declined to rule on lawmakers’ request to have their appeal dismissed.

Those decisions prompted a dissent from Republican Justice Tamara Barringer, who argued that there was no reason to expedite the case while also ignoring lawmakers’ request.

“The majority’s decision … lacks any jurisprudential support,” Barringer wrote. “It reeks of judicial activism and should deeply trouble every citizen of this state.”

“Given the absence of any identifiable jurisprudential reason, the majority’s decision today appears to reflect deeper partisan biases that have no place in a judiciary dedicated to the impartial administration of justice and the rule of law,” Barringer added.