The N.C. Supreme Court has agreed to extend oral arguments in next week’s redistricting case by 50%. Instead of the customary 60 minutes for all arguments, supporters and opponents of the state’s new congressional and legislative election maps will get a total of 90 minutes to make their cases.
State courts have consolidated two redistricting lawsuits, one led by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters and the other by an individual plaintiff named Rebecca Harper. The courts have allowed left-of-center advocacy group Common Cause to intervene as a third plaintiff.
“The NCLCV Plaintiffs’, Harper Plaintiffs’, and Plaintiff-Intervenor Common Cause’s (together, “plaintiffs-appellants”) motion to extend the time allowed for oral argument is allowed only as follows: the time for oral argument will be extended both for the plaintiffs-appellants collectively, and for the defendants-appellees collectively, to forty-five minutes for each side,” according to an order issued Wednesday.
“The plaintiffs-appellants’ collective total of forty-five minutes for oral argument, including main argument and rebuttal, shall be divided equally among the three plaintiffs-appellants unless they agree otherwise,” the order continued. “The defendants-appellees’ collective total of forty-five minutes for oral argument shall be divided equally between the two defendants-appellees unless they agree otherwise.”
Oral arguments are scheduled for Wednesday. At stake is the fate of new election maps for North Carolina’s 50 state Senate seats, 120 state House seats, and 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The General Assembly approved the maps last year with party-line votes. Republicans supported the maps. Democrats voted against them.
A unanimous bipartisan three-judge Superior Court panel upheld the maps Jan. 11. The judges agreed with the plaintiffs that legislators had drawn each map with pro-Republican partisan intent. But the panel also agreed nothing within the state’s political history or court precedent gave them a reason to reject the maps.
If the state Supreme Court throws out the maps, it would have to overturn that bipartisan trial court ruling.
Once the Supreme Court hears oral arguments, there is no timeline for its decision in the case. Political observers expect a relatively quick response, largely because of the election timeline.
Candidate filing for all N.C. elections, including those related to the challenged maps, is scheduled to resume Feb. 24. Primary elections are scheduled for May 17. House Bill 605, approved this month in the General Assembly, would delay candidate filing to March 24 and the primary date to June 7. H.B. 605 sits on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
State law spells out a process for legislators to redraw election maps thrown out by the courts. The law requires judges to give the General Assembly at least two weeks to produce new maps. The law also requires courts to spell out the constitutional defects lawmakers must address. If lawmakers fail to meet the deadline for addressing problems with their maps, a court could impose its own maps. Those maps would be valid for just one election cycle.
Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein filed a friend-of-the-court brief Jan. 21 suggesting that the Supreme Court could ignore state redistricting law. Cooper and Stein’s brief labeled the two-week legislative redrawing requirement a “request” rather than a mandate. The governor and attorney general also disputed the General Assembly’s ability to dictate that court-imposed maps could be used for just one set of elections.