Redistricting plaintiffs urge N.C. Supreme Court to hear new arguments as early as September

Attorney Hilary Klein questions a witness during a trial addressing N.C. election maps. (Image from WRAL.com pool video)
  • Foes of N.C. legislative election maps want the state Supreme Court to speed up its consideration of their legal challenge.
  • Redistricting plaintiffs want their case resolved "at the earliest possible opportunity," with oral arguments as soon as September.

Just as the fall election campaign season heats up in September, the N.C. Supreme Court could hear new arguments in the legal battle over state election maps. That’s if the state’s highest court grants a request from plaintiffs in the election redistricting case.

Lawyers representing left-of-center activist group Common Cause filed paperwork Monday urging the state’s highest court to expedite the case. It will “be ripe for oral argument and consideration by early September 2022,” according to the motion from attorney Hilary Klein of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The coalition represents Common Cause in the redistricting dispute.

“The public interest requires a final decision by this Court at the earliest possible opportunity,” Klein wrote.

The ongoing case would not affect 2022 elections but could influence any further redistricting related to maps for the state House and Senate, as well as North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Common Cause and two other sets of plaintiffs object to the legislative maps. Menahwile, Republican legislative leaders oppose a court-imposed congressional map. Briefing in the challenge to legislative maps should be complete by Aug. 10, and paperwork related to the congressional map dispute should be filed by Sept. 7, according to the Common Cause motion.

“The decision in this matter stands to directly impact every voter in North Carolina, informing the formation of state legislative and Congressional maps in this and future redistricting cycles,” Klein wrote.

“[E]xpedited consideration of this matter is warranted to ensure that any additional redistricting this cycle can be completed in an orderly fashion and with the clarity on the requirements of the state constitution that will be provided by the disposition of this appeal,” she added. “Expedited consideration will allow the resolution of all the issues pending before the Court … before any future redistricting, avoiding the rushed timeline for future redistricting and related proceedings characteristic of the earlier proceedings in this matter.”

Klein’s motion notes that Common Cause has support or consent for the expedited timeline from the other sets of redistricting plaintiffs. Legislative defendants object to Common Cause’s plan.

At the same time that Common Cause requested the expedited schedule, the group also submitted its brief opposing current maps for N.C. House and Senate elections. A three-judge panel accepted remedial maps drawn by legislators after the state Supreme Court ruled that the original maps drawn in 2021 were unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

“[T]he trial court received clear direction by this Court to approve state legislative maps that satisfy all provisions of the North Carolina Constitution. It failed,” Klein wrote. “In its order approving the remedial House and Senate plans enacted by the General Assembly, the trial court ignored legal arguments and supporting evidence that the remedial state legislative plans cause unlawful vote dilution for Black voters and intentionally destroy functioning crossover districts in violation of North Carolina’s Equal Protection Clause; it misconstrued and misapplied this Court’s direction to evaluate whether the remedial plans provide substantially equal voting power to voters regardless of political affiliation; … and it ignored unanimous findings of the expert assistants to the Special Masters, and submissions by Plaintiffs, indicating that the remedial House and Senate maps do not provide voters with an equal opportunity to aggregate and translate their votes to power in the form of a governing majority.”

“If left uncorrected, North Carolinians will be forced to vote in elections that deny their most fundamental right to substantially equal voting power — a plainly undemocratic result that this Court, in its Order and Opinion, specifically sought to avoid in this and future redistricting cycles.”

The other two sets of redistricting plaintiffs also submitted briefs Monday with the state Supreme Court.

“This Court held in invalidating the General Assembly’s 2021 redistricting plans that a plan is unconstitutional if it fails to provide voters with ‘substantially the same opportunity to electing a supermajority or majority of representatives as the voters of the opposing party would be afforded if they comprised [the same vote share] in that same election,'” wrote attorneys for the so-called Harper plaintiffs. “The remedial Senate plan enacted by the General Assembly and approved by the trial court flunks this constitutional standard.”

“The trial court … approved a party-line Senate plan that persists in favoring one political party over another, notwithstanding the will of North Carolina’s voters,” wrote attorneys representing the N.C. League of Conservation Voters. “And it did so even though it had before it alternative
remedial plans (from the NCLCV Plaintiffs and the Harper Plaintiffs) that all but eliminated this bias while complying as well or better with North Carolina’s traditional neutral districting principles.”

As the state Supreme Court weighs competing arguments about N.C. election maps, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide whether to take up legislative leaders’ case against the congressional map. Court records indicate the case Moore v. Harper has been scheduled twice this month for the high court’s consideration in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s latest orders list, issued Monday, offered no clue about whether justices will take up N.C. legislators’ request.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to incorporate information from other briefs submitted by redistricting plaintiffs.

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