NC Supreme Court order delays primaries until May
Posted December 8, 2021 5:09 p.m. EST
Updated December 8, 2021 10:49 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended candidate filing for the 2022 primary elections and ordered that the primaries be delayed until May 17.
The court granted an injunction in response to legal challenges related to the state’s new congressional and legislative district maps. Primaries were originally scheduled to be held on March 8.
“In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of these cases, the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this state and the need for urgency in reaching a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity, the court grants a preliminary injunction and temporarily stays the candidate-filing period for the 2022 elections for all offices until such time as a final judgment on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims, including any appeals, is entered and a remedy, if any is required, has been ordered,” the court said in its order.
Voting rights groups are challenging the election maps drawn by the legislature's Republican majority, arguing they're unfair gerrymanders meant to lock in GOP power. The groups complain that the new maps, approved last month, are so biased toward Republicans that they violate voters' constitutional right to a free and fair election.
The new voting maps are expected to deliver wins for Republicans in at least 10 of the state's 14 U.S. House districts, and likely supermajorities in the state House and the state Senate, despite an electorate that's politically nearly evenly split.
A three-judge Superior Court panel in Wake County on Friday declined a request to delay the 2022 primaries.
On Monday, a panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed that decision, halting filing for U.S. House and state legislative races just minutes before filing was set to begin. The panel’s decision was then appealed to the full 15-member appeals court, which voted to lift the stay and hold a hearing on the motion.
Challengers appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which issued its order on Wednesday.
Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein had also filed a brief with the state Supreme Court on Monday, asking that the high court take over the lawsuit so that the matter could be settled as quickly as possible. Both men are in favor of a court-ordered redraw of the districts.
In a statement Wednesday, Republicans alleged partisanship on the Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 Democratic majority.
“The court didn’t even articulate a legal or factual basis for suspending elections,” Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who co-chairs the Senate Elections committee, said in a statement. “The Democrats on the Supreme Court want districts that elect more Democrats, so they're blocking every election in the state until they get their way."
Cooper said in a statement that he supports the court’s decision to review the legality of the election maps.
"Today’s order by the state Supreme Court restores faith in the rule of law, and it is necessary for the court to rule on the constitutionality of these unfair districts before the next election," he said.
At least 1,400 candidates have already filed for federal, state and local races, according to the State Board of Elections.
"To throw this process into chaos in the middle of filing leaves North Carolinians with uncertainty ahead of the election," House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. "Despite this delay, we are confident that we will prevail at trial and our maps will stand."
The Supreme Court's order requires the original three-judge panel to hear the legal challenges and decide them by Jan. 11, to be followed by an expedited appeals process, if needed.
Dates for a new filing period haven't been set.
Candidates whose filings have already been accepted by state or county elections boards “will be deemed to have filed for the same office” in the May primary, subject to any court rulings that would impact that candidate’s eligibility, the state elections board said, quoting the court.
Candidates would be able to withdraw their candidacy during the new filing period. Any candidate who withdraws is free to file for any other office for which he or she is eligible during the reopened filing period, the board said.