Raleigh, N.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court has put new General Assembly elections ordered by a lower court on hold for now.
In a one-paragraph order issued Tuesday, the court stayed a lower court demand that lawmakers redraw many of their districts and hold new elections in 2017. Normally, new legislative elections would have to wait until 2018.
The stay puts the case on hold until the Supreme Court decides whether it will hear the matter. If it does take the case, North Carolina won't hold a new election until the high court issues its ruling on the matter.
At issue are 28 of the 170 state legislative districts drawn in 2011 that the lower court found violated rules against relying too much on the race of voters to determine district lines.
The trio of federal judges who made that original finding reiterated last week that they did not want to give lawmakers more time to redraw their districts.
"The time during which Plaintiffs and other citizens are represented by legislators elected in racially gerrymandered districts would serve only to exacerbate the irreparable harm the voters have already suffered by allowing an unconstitutionally constituted legislature to continue to act," the judges wrote in their Jan. 4 order.
However, many of the issues at play in this state gerrymandering case are similar to a case involving congressional districts that went before the court in December. The Supreme Court has not issued a ruling in that case yet.
It's unclear if and when the court will hold a full hearing on the case. The justices do have the option of ruling, either for or against the state, without the benefit of further briefings or holding full blown oral arguments.
"Today’s action just puts everything on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the appeal of whether the district court was correct to order special elections in 2017. On behalf of our clients, we continue to trust that the district court’s ruling will be upheld and new districts ultimately will be drawn that are not based on race," said Anita Earls, director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the plaintiffs who challenged the districts.
The legislature's top Republican leaders celebrated the stay in a joint news release.
"We are grateful the U.S. Supreme Court has quashed judicial activism and rejected an attempt to nullify the votes of North Carolinians in the 2016 legislative elections," House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Rockingham, and Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said.