News: Quick Takes

Court rejects attempt to use older lawsuit to redraw Wake, Mecklenburg districts

A state three-judge panel has rejected attempts from plaintiffs in North Carolina’s ongoing legislative redistricting federal lawsuit to meet their goals through an earlier state court case. The practical result: The court will not force redrawing of Wake and Mecklenburg County N.C. House districts.

The decision came to light hours before candidates had a chance to file at noon Monday, Feb. 12, for legislative seats in the state’s two largest counties. The U.S. Supreme Court already had blocked a federal court’s order to redraw Wake and Mecklenburg House districts.

Unless another court steps in, voters will face districts the N.C. General Assembly drew in 2017 to comply with an earlier court order. Plaintiffs in the federal Covington v. North Carolina case had urged the state three-judge panel to toss out lawmakers’ districts in favor of alternatives drawn by a Stanford law professor in connection with the Covington case.

The panel of Superior Court judges — two Democrats and one Republican — ruled against a proposal to use the state-filed Dickson v. Rucho case to achieve plaintiffs’ goals.

“[S]ignificant practical difficulties, if not jurisdictional impediments, exist when one court is called upon to construe and enforce another court’s order that was made upon a distinct and separate record by distinct and separate plaintiffs,” the judges warned.

“[T]his three-judge panel concludes that the doctrine of mootness and judicial economy dictate that this litigation be declared to be concluded,” according to the judges. “The legislative and congressional maps now under consideration in federal courts are not the product of the 2011 redistricting legislation considered by this trial court, but rather the product of later actions of the General Assembly and the scrutiny of the federal courts.”

The three judges suggested that plaintiffs could seeking additional action in state courts. “While plaintiffs are certainly not foreclosed from seeking redress in the General Court of Justice of North Carolina for state constitutional claims that may become apparent in the 2016 and 2017 redistricting plans, those claims ought best be asserted in new litigation.”

A separate group of plaintiffs filed the Dickson v. Rucho suit in 2011 to challenge state legislative and congressional maps. The case made three trips to the N.C. Supreme Court and two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court before returning to its original three-judge panel.