News: CJ Exclusives

State Appeals Redistricting Order to U.S. Supreme Court

Three-judge federal panel rejects request to halt order invalidating 1st and 12th Congressional Districts

The U.S. Supreme Court will take a second look at a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan, as the state made an emergency appeal to the justices to stay a trial-court order invalidating the 1st and 12th Congressional Districts. Without a delay, it’s unlikely congressional primaries can be held as scheduled March 15.

“We are disappointed in the federal trial court’s decision because there is so much uncertainty on whether the primary election already under way can continue or whether a new primary election needs to take place – and whether votes that have already been cast can be counted. We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize the urgency and gravity of these questions and issue a stay,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who chair the General Assembly’s redistricting committees, in a statement announcing the appeal.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the General Assembly used race as the primary consideration in drawing the state’s two majority-minority districts. The panel ordered the General Assembly to present new congressional maps by Feb. 19.

The state on Monday asked the panel to stay its order, noting that thousands of absentee ballots have been mailed and hundreds returned. An affidavit filed by Kim Strach, the State Board of Elections’ executive director, said that delaying or dividing the primary to accommodate new districts would require extensive staff retraining, additional costs to state and county taxpayers, and possible confusion from voters and candidates.

The panel rejected that request, fueling the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts presides over North Carolina’s federal circuit, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and could decide to stay the order, let it stand, or ask the entire Supreme Court to review the request.

The federal justices last year ordered the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the redistricting plan in the wake of a decision voiding Alabama’s congressional maps on racial grounds. The state Supreme Court concluded in late December that — unlike in Alabama — North Carolina mapmakers used rules that honored the federal Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and upheld the Tar Heel State’s congressional maps.

The plaintiffs — two voters in the 12th District and one in the 1st District — appealed, and the three-judge federal panel unanimously ruled that race was the primary reason for the composition of the 1st District, and two of the three judges said race was the dominant factor in the 12th District.

If the federal justices do not issue a stay of the panel’s order, the General Assembly will have to call a special session to redraw the district maps, delay the congressional primary, or both.