A three-judge federal panel has denied a request to force a special N.C. legislative election before regularly scheduled 2018 contests. But the judges have ordered state lawmakers to prepare new election maps by Sept. 1.
The judges issued their 11-page ruling Monday evening. It offers neither legislators nor their critics a complete victory.
Legislative leaders had argued against special elections, either later this year or in early 2018. The federal judges sided with legislators on that point without explaining why. “As will be explained more fully in a forthcoming memorandum opinion, we deny Plaintiffs’ request for a special election,” the order states.
While plaintiffs in the case failed to secure their special election, they were able to convince judges to order a relatively brief timeline for drawing new election maps for N.C. House and Senate seats. Plaintiffs wanted new maps finished by Aug. 11. Legislators countered with a proposal for new maps by November.
Instead, judges opted for Sept. 1. “This is twice as long as the General Assembly has when a state court orders redistricting, is over a year after this Court ordered the legislature to redistrict, and is almost three months after the Supreme Court upheld this Court’s order finding the existing districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” the order explains.
The judges will extend the deadline to Sept. 15 if lawmakers meet a preliminary deadline set three weeks from now.
The court order marks the latest development in the Covington v. North Carolina case. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the three-judge panel’s earlier ruling in the case that 28 legislative districts must be thrown out as examples of illegal racial gerrymandering. The Supreme Court also chided the panel for an earlier order demanding special elections without offering adequate justification.
House and Senate redistricting committees are scheduled to meet Friday.