The N.C. Supreme Court has jumped into the state’s legal battle over new election maps. The high court has shut down candidate filing and delayed all state primary elections until May 17.

The high court wants a trial court to rule on the merits of two ongoing redistricting lawsuits by Jan. 11.

“In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of these cases, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this State, and the need for urgency in reaching a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity, the Court grants a preliminary injunction and temporarily stays the candidate-filing period for the 2022 elections for all offices until such time as a final judgment on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims, including any appeals, is entered and a remedy, if any is required, has been ordered,” according to the Supreme Court’s order.

The order blocks the state’s scheduled March 8, 2022, primary election. “[D]efendants instead are directed to hold primaries for all offices on Tuesday, May 17, 2022,” according to the order. “The trial court is authorized to issue any orders necessary to accomplish the resulting changes in the election schedule, including implementing shortened filing periods and other administrative adjustments.”

The order explains what happens to candidates who already have filed this week for next year’s elections. “Any individual who has already filed to run for public office in 2022 and whose filing has been accepted by the appropriate board of elections, will be deemed to have filed for the same office under the new election schedule for the May 2022 primary unless they provide timely notice of withdrawal of their candidacy to the board of elections during the newly-established filing period,” the Supreme Court orders.

There is one exception: candidates whose districts get thrown out if the courts force lawmakers to redraw state election maps. In the court’s words, a candidate is not deemed to have filed “to the extent that a remedy in this matter, if any, impacts a candidate’s eligibility to hold the office for which they have currently filed. Any individual who has properly withdrawn their candidacy is free to file for any other office for which they may be eligible during the reopened filing period.”

The Supreme Court wants action within a month on resolving the redistricting complaints through a trial. “The trial court is directed to hold proceedings necessary to reach a ruling on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims and to provide a written ruling on or before Tuesday, January 11, 2022.”

An appeal from that trial court ruling must be filed with the Supreme Court within two days. The process will bypass the intermediate-level N.C. Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court’s ruling responds to a request from redistricting challengers in two lawsuits. Both sets of plaintiffs had asked the high court to intervene after the full 15-member Appeals Court had rejected their attempts to shut down candidate filing.

In both cases, challengers argue that new state election maps violate the state constitution because of gerrymandering. Plaintiffs want maps for North Carolina’s congressional delegation, N.C. House, and N.C Senate to be thrown out.

A state Senate redistricting leader criticized the order. “The court did not cite any basis in law for its move and did not criticize the maps,” according to a news release from Sen, Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell. “It reached its secretive decision based only on two affidavits. The secretive, unnamed decision only states that elections are blocked because the case is ‘important’ and of ‘public interest.'”

Hise refers to the fact the order does not indicate how the Supreme Court voted in reaching its decision. While the order is signed by Justice Tamara Barringer according to the clerk of court, the signature is difficult to read.

“The court didn’t even articulate a legal or factual basis for suspending elections,” Hise said. “The Democrats on the Supreme Court want districts that elect more Democrats, so they’re blocking every election in the state until they get their way.”