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Since Democrat Mike Morgan won over Republican incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds in 2016, effectively flipping the court from a 4-3 Republican majority to 4-3 Democratic control, the Republican-led legislature has attempted to gain partisan control again. One way is an attempt to Block Redistricting Order.
North Carolina Republican legislative leaders asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to block enforcement of an order throwing out the state’s congressional map and directing a redraw almost immediately.
The lawmakers’ attorneys filed a motion with Chief Justice John Roberts seeking delay of the lower court judges’ directive that the General Assembly draw a replacement map by Jan. 24.
The three-judge panel that issued Tuesday’s ruling concluding the boundaries were an illegal partisan gerrymander also said it would hire a redistricting expert to make its own alternate map in case the GOP-controlled legislature doesn’t draw a map or draws lines that still look unlawful.
Wait for other decisions
GOP lawyer Paul Clement argued that requiring a redraw less than three weeks before candidate filing begins for the Feb. 12 midterm elections would create uncertainty among voters and potential candidates.
It doesn’t make sense for North Carolina to redraw its 2016 maps before the Supreme Court resolves similar partisan gerrymandering cases from Maryland and Wisconsin, whose outcomes could affect the final result in North Carolina’s case.
The Supreme Court has never declared that the constitutional rights of voters can be violated by redistricting plans that entrench one party’s control to the detriment of the other party. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments last fall in the Wisconsin case, which involved state legislative districts, and are expected to issue a ruling by early summer.
“It makes no sense whatsoever to force North Carolina to immediately remedy a purported partisan gerrymandering violation and commence its 2018 election cycle under a new court-imposed map before this court can even decide whether and under what circumstances such claims may be adjudicated,” Clement told Roberts, who receives appeals from North Carolina.
In a similar case in Pennsylvania, a divided three-judge panel Wednesday rejected partisan gerrymandering claims involving the state’s congressional districts.
Discriminatory partisan objective to Block Redistricting Order
In North Carolina, the lower court panel determined that the Republican map, approved by the legislature in February 2016, was marked by “invidious partisanship” that violated the U.S. Constitution. The evidence showed the “plan achieved the General Assembly’s discriminatory partisan objective,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn wrote in the case’s chief opinion.
At the time the maps were approved, Republican leaders said retaining the party’s 10-3 seat advantage in the state’s congressional delegation was one of its mapping criteria. The GOP won 10 seats in November 2016.
In his arguments on behalf of the GOP legislators who approved the maps, Clement wrote that the lower court “has used an entirely novel legal theory to hopelessly disrupt North Carolina’s upcoming congressional elections.”
The Republican lawyers had already asked the three-judge panel to order a delay of its decision by Thursday, but jumped to the Supreme Court on Friday when the judges didn’t act quickly.
Republicans have now requested a Supreme Court decision by Jan. 22. Late Friday, Roberts asked for a response by next Wednesday to the delay request from the election advocacy groups and Democratic voters who sued over the congressional map.
The advocates say voters have waited too long for legal boundaries and a new map is needed for 2018 elections. Republicans initially approved district maps in 2011, but another three-judge panel struck down two districts five years later, identifying them as illegal racial gerrymanders. That prompted the creation of a new map, the one now before the courts.
A graphic from IndyWeek’s Jeffrey C. Billman: