Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday called a special session of the General Assembly to redraw voting maps that have been ruled unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that state lawmakers illegally packed too many black voters into 19 House and nine Senate districts when they drew legislative voting maps in 2011.
"It's time that North Carolinians be represented fairly so that our legislature is no longer making headlines for the wrong reasons," Cooper said. "The first step toward leveling the playing field of our democracy is drawing a new map."
Cooper said the special session would start at 2 p.m. Thursday and run for two weeks, concurrent with the ongoing 2017 legislation session.
State law calls for courts to give lawmakers 14 days to draw voting maps before judges are allowed to step in and draw the maps themselves. So, Cooper said, if lawmakers can't or won't rework the maps during the special session, the courts should be allowed to draw the maps so voters know as soon as possible which districts they will be voting in and candidates know where they will be running if a special election is held.
"We have fought for too long over these maps. Let's put an end to it and create districts that are fair for North Carolina voters. The sooner we start, the sooner we can end the bickering and focus on important policies and priorities," he said.
Cooper contended that the state has been working with an unconstitutional legislature for the past five years and, during that time, he said a number of controversial laws have been passed.
It is in the best interest of Republicans to being redrawing the maps immediately, he said.
"Delay only thwarts justice. If they adjourn this special session with no maps passed, then that sends a signal to the court that the legislature would rather have the court draw them," he said.
While Cooper said it is unusual for a special session to run concurrent with a regular session, it has happened before and will save tax dollars because legislators are already in Raleigh.
"We applaud Governor Cooper on his decision to call a special session to draw new legislative maps. The same Republicans who gave us these unconstitutional maps continue to show that they will do everything in their power to delay new maps, choosing to drag their feet instead of fixing their moral wrong," North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement. "This special session will save taxpayers money and is necessary for us to finally move out from under a dark cloud of a racial gerrymander that has hung over our state for far too long."
Republican leaders told WRAL News that they did not receive advance notice from Cooper about the special session.
"Gov. Cooper has no constitutional role in redistricting, and we have no order from the courts to redraw maps by his preferred timeline. This is a clear political stunt meant to deter lawmakers from our work on raising teacher pay, providing relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew and putting money back into the pockets of middle-class families. We are already in session and will continue to focus on this important work," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, in a joint statement.
House Speaker Tim Moore said he has no issue with reworking the maps, but lawmakers need directions from the court first.
"We don't know that yet, and until the case comes back down from the federal court to the trial court, we won't know it," Moore said of how the maps should be redrawn.