Court declines stay in redistricting; US House elections off

Posted February 19, 2016

Republican lawmakers have proposed a reconfiguration of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House districts after federal judges ruled two were unconstitutionally drawn based on race.

— The U.S. Supreme Court refused Friday night to stop a lower-court order demanding North Carolina legislators draw a new congressional map, meaning U.S. House primary elections won't occur next month as scheduled and are shifted to June.

The denial of the request by state of North Carolina attorneys for the justices to intervene came after Republican lawmakers redrew the boundaries as a safeguard to comply with a federal court ruling that called two majority black districts racial gerrymanders.

The General Assembly reconvened and passed a new map because a three-judge panel had ordered a replacement by Friday.

State attorneys argued that absentee ballots already were being requested for the March 15 primary election, and blocking districts used since 2011 would create electoral chaos and a costly separate House primary later in the year. But voters who sued over the boundaries said they shouldn't have to vote in illegal districts for another election cycle, as in 2012 and 2014.

The refusal means the congressional primary elections will now occur June 7 under new boundaries that put two incumbents in the same district and seriously jeopardize the re-election of Democratic 12th District Congresswoman Alma Adams, who is now living in a strong Republican district.

The state's separate formal appeal of the three-judge panel's decision continues regardless of the justices' decision on the stay. But the stay denial marks a substantial defeat for GOP legislators, who drew the districts in 2011.

"I am pleased the court declined to allow the GOP's racially gerrymandered congressional districts to move forward. The implications for the equally abusive legislative districts are clear," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake.

The state House and state Senate districts were drawn in 2011 using the same redistricting logic used in the congressional map and also have been challenged in court. That case is scheduled to be argued in April before the same federal court that tossed out the congressional maps.

The Feb. 5 lower-court decision found illegal the majority black 1st and 12th Districts as drawn by Republican legislators earlier this decade because lawmakers improperly used race predominantly to determine the districts' shape and voting populations. The 1st District covers all or parts of 24 counties from Durham to Elizabeth City and New Bern. The 12th District takes in parts of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, largely linked along Interstate 85.

Two voters who sued in 2013 said legislators packed black voters into the two districts while diminishing their influence in surrounding districts. Attorneys for legislative leaders and the state disagree and said the districts were drawn fairly and in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and past redistricting decisions.

Even with U.S. House races delayed, North Carolina's March 15 primary includes the presidential preference primaries; races for governor, U.S. Senate and the General Assembly; and a $2 billion bond referendum.

According to Republican lawmakers that drew the map, the boundaries give the GOP a solid chance to retain 10 of the 13 seats in North Carolina's congressional delegation.

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  • Clarence Drumgoole Feb 19, 2016
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    OK NC, clean up your MESS!