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North Carolina's U.S. House elections will be delayed as Supreme Court denies stay

Posted February 19

State senators wait to debate new maps for the U.S. House.

— North Carolina will have to rely on contingency plans to delay the state's U.S. House elections this spring after the U.S. Supreme Court refused late Friday to stay a lower court order.

The state's elections were thrown into doubt two weeks ago when a three-judge panel found that lawmakers had unconstitutionally relied too heavily on race in drawing the lines that divide North Carolina into 13 congressional districts. That panel ordered state lawmakers to put new maps into place by Friday.

While the General Assembly met that deadline, top leaders held out hope that Chief Justice John Roberts and his colleagues would make those efforts unneeded. Instead, in a one sentence order, the nation's highest court provided some certainty for how this year's U.S. House elections would be conducted, but raised bigger questions involving other cases headed for the court.

"The application for stay presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is denied," read the court's order.

A pair of bills lawmakers passed Friday both redraw the state's congressional districts and set new rules and timetables for the state's primary elections. That new calendar had been contingent on the Supreme Court's action. Had the court issued a stay, the new law would have set aside the newly drawn maps and stuck with the 2011 plan.

As it is, lawmakers have passed a bill calling for all races on the state's March 15 primary to go forward with the exception of the U.S. House races.

Those races will be contested in a primary slated for June 7 presuming two things happen. Gov. Pat McCrory must sign legislation lawmakers sent him Friday night, and the the three-judge panel that rejected the 2011 maps must sign off on the General Assembly's 2016 effort.

Although only U.S. House races will be delayed, contests up and down the ballot will be affected by new election rules.

In order to deal with the time crunch that two different primaries create, lawmakers also voted to do away with runoffs this year. In most other years, a candidate must received at least 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid a second primary. This year, the top vote-getter in a primary, even if he or she is below 40 percent, will win. That could affect races such as the four-way primary for U.S. Senate, as well as a handful of other statewide and legislative races.

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

There is a separate federal case pending that will be heard in April that challenges state House and Senate districts using virtually the same argument as in the congressional redistricting case. Observers say it could follow a similar path to the case that triggered this week's action.

"You have to think that Chief Justice Roberts spent a lot of time talking to other justices before they made this decision," said Jane Pinsky, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

The court's order specifically notes that it was "referred to the Court." Although the federal judiciary is often inscrutable, the refusal to issue a stay is often a sign the justices don't believe those appealing – in this case, the state – can win their case.

Top legislative leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday. However, on the floor of the House and the Senate, they defended both their prior efforts as well as a new map.

That new map keeps 87 of North Carolina's 100 counties whole rather than dividing them among two or more congressional districts. It also packs fewer black voters into the 1st and 12th districts, both of which were the focus of the lower federal court ruling.

On balance, the map is more competitive than the one drawn in 2011, but it still gives Republicans an advantage in 10 of the 13 districts. Democrats decried this as unfair, but Republicans said they have every right to use their legislative majorities to their advantage.

"When you hear all these comments and all these complaints about gerrymandering, well, we sat at the master's feet for decades," said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, one of the leaders who helped to draft the new maps. "Perhaps some people learned something."

Reform groups have called for lawmakers to turn over the job of drawing maps to a nonpartisan commission. Pinsky said that, after this week's hurried redraw and subsequent court decision, that option should be more appealing than ever.

"For many years, Democrats drew congressional boundaries in North Carolina that produced chaotic court fights," she said. "Now, it's Republican versions that cannot survive."

24 Comments

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  • Roy Pine Feb 22, 2016
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    Those fiscally conservative Republicans at it again. Why have one election, when you can have two for twice the cost, and just throw out the first one?

    Wonder where the counties are going to find the money for an extra election?

    Moreover, by punting the "real" election to June, they've assured our irrelevancy to the national primary contest and robbing all voters, Republican and Democrat alike, of their chance to have an impact. Please keep that in mind in June and again in November, and purge Raleigh of the lamebrains in there now.

  • Raleigh Rose Feb 22, 2016
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    Look up Southern Realignment and Southern Strategy.

  • Raleigh Rose Feb 22, 2016
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    Look beyond the label of Dem & Rep. The Rep party during the Civil War was for freeing the slaves & is why many Southerners were Dems until the mid-20th century. It's common knowledge that over time the platforms of the parties changed. Not overnight but from the late 1800's to the 1960's. In the 40's you had the Dixiecrats, southern conservative Dems that split to form a short-lived 3rd party in opposition to civil rights. In the 60's during the Civil Rights movement more Dems left for the Rep party in opposition to the bill. Such as Thurmond who became a Rep after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, as well as Jesse Helms. You can also look at the votes for the CRA by region, as all the former Union Dem senators voted for the CRA as did 85% of Reps; the majority of former Confederate state senators voted against. The Reps were vital in passing the CRA-but you need to look at who was liberal or conservative at that time.

  • Steve Clark Feb 22, 2016
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    James, I guess we'll have to 'agree to disagree'. Although.. you're Reagan reference DOES peek my curiosity.. and I'm asking this in good faith because I don't know the answer... were teachers unions 'pro-Repub' in 1979-80?

  • James Henderson Feb 22, 2016
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    No. I am saying I do not remember ever reading or hearing that "democrats are heroes," but I do recall hearing several teachers say that everyone should "vote for Reagan" So it goes both ways.

  • Steve Clark Feb 22, 2016
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    So just to be clear James, You're saying there is no 'Liberal bias' the classroom?... correct?

  • James Henderson Feb 22, 2016
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    Whether or not a textbook covers the voting records concerning the Civil Rights Act, it is not equivalent to rewriting history and proclaiming democrats to be heroes. You are mad just because they don't explicitly espouse your personal opinions.

  • Steve Clark Feb 22, 2016
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    All of them James, that say how the Dems passed the Civil Rights Act, but neglect to mention how it was a Republican Congress that passed it and how many times the Dem Congress voted against it.

  • James Henderson Feb 22, 2016
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    Which textbooks proclaim theDemocrats to be heroes? I would like to purchase one!

  • Steve Clark Feb 22, 2016
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    You're kidding, right Dale? The Republicans freed the slaves (before FDR), tried three times to pass Civil rights under Eisenhower (after FDR), And have two Hispanics and one African-American running for President (present day).

    The Dems created the KKK, Jim Crow, and stood in school house doorways. The Dems just changed the 'mob' they pandered to from 'racist whites' (not all of which were southern) to blacks and Hispanics... AND SAID AS MUCH, when LBJ said "we've got to give the niggras something" and signed the civil rights act (that the Republican Congress passed, and he voted against TWICE while he was in Congress).

    What the Dems have done an Amazing job at, is taking over the media and the textbooks/classroom, and 're-writing' history, with THEM as the heroes!

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