News: Quick Takes

Secretaries of state call court ruling a case of unprecedented overreach

Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily, picked as a special master by a three-judge federal panel, leaves the federal courthouse in Greensboro after Friday's hearing in the Covington legislative redistricting lawsuit. (CJ Photo by Dan Way)
Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily, picked as a special master by a three-judge federal panel, leaves the federal courthouse in Greensboro after Friday's hearing in the Covington legislative redistricting lawsuit. (CJ Photo by Dan Way)

A ruling by a federal three-judge panel in the Covington v. North Carolina legislative redistricting lawsuit threatens to upset state election laws on a national scale through unprecedented court overreach, eight secretaries of state say in a legal filing.

Those officials on Wednesday, Jan. 31, submitted an amicus brief, to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting North Carolina’s request to freeze the lower court’s Jan. 21 ruling that the state scrap its legislative maps already redrawn once by court order.

The three-judge panel said the state must use a new version including revisions made by a California law professor hired by the court. Those changes were the subject of a Jan. 5 hearing.

The three-judge federal panel’s ruling “raises grave concerns about disruption of the May 2018 [primary] elections in North Carolina, and the specter of precedent for similar disruptions in other states if other courts follow suit,” the brief said. Allowing the court’s ruling to stand threatens the integrity of the North Carolina election, and states’ sovereign authority to create election boundaries.

The judicial panel’s 11th-hour order is every election official’s nightmare, a Republican State Leadership Committee news release said. With the candidate filing period set to begin Feb. 12, North Carolina must implement significant changes to its legislative districts in an unreasonable time frame, the release said.

As a practical matter, districts must be known, precincts must be set, and voters must be properly assigned in advance of the filing period, the news release said. North Carolina now must rush to ensure compliance with federal law requiring states to provide military and overseas voters with absentee ballots at least 45 days before the May 8 primary.

The brief says the court’s action runs counter to fundamental principles of federalism and separation of powers. It cited precedent cases in which courts determined electoral maps were legally deficient or unconstitutional, but ordered them used nonetheless when elections were imminent, even as much as three months away.

“Courts should not throw election administration into chaos at the 11th-hour to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

“The court’s appointment of a liberal law professor to cure a map of racial gerrymandering — even though the legislature did not use race in drawing the map — is unprecedented, and the order adopting that map should be stayed pending review,” Walter said.

Walter said the federal court’s ruling is part of an ongoing campaign by liberals to invalidate lawful election maps drawn by state legislatures in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.

Secretaries of State who signed the amicus brief are:

  • John Merrill, Alabama
  • Michele Reagan, Arizona
  • Mark Martin, Arkansas
  • Kris Kobach, Kansas
  • Tom Schedler, Louisiana
  • John R. Ashcroft, Missouri
  • Mark Hammond, South Carolina
  • Mac Warner, West Virginia

With the exception of Hammond, all are the top election officials in their states.