@NCCapitol

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Supreme Court blocks redraw of NC congressional map

Posted January 18, 2018 6:37 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2018 11:14 p.m. EST

This map shows the new congressional districts drawn during the Feb. 18 redistricting session.

— The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the decision of a lower court ordering North Carolina lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional districts by next week.

A panel of three federal judges recently struck down the map drawn in 2016 as excessively partisan and demanded a new map be completed by Jan. 24. At the same time, the judges wanted to appoint an independent expert to draw a second map for them to consider.

When the judges refused to stay their order, lawmakers appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that rushing out a new map would throw elections into chaos. Candidate filing for congressional and other offices starts Feb. 12.

"Respondents do not and cannot identify any legitimate justification for forcing the General Assembly to rush to draw a new congressional map in two weeks, when this Court is presently considering whether the partisan gerrymandering claims that gave rise to the district court’s extraordinary demand are even justiciable," lawyers for the lawmakers wrote in a brief filed with the court on Thursday.

The 7-2 ruling by the Supreme Court means the map drawn in 2016 will be used in the May primaries and this fall's elections.

"We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court’s 11th-hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes, restored certainty to voters and ensured that, in the coming days, candidates for office can file in the least gerrymandered and most compact Congressional districts in modern state history," Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who lead the General Assembly's redistricting process, said in a joint statement.

Lawmakers were forced to redraw the maps two years ago after federal courts determined that two of the 13 congressional districts had been racially gerrymandered. During the process of making new maps, lawmakers boasted about ignoring the race of voters altogether and trying to draw districts to elect as many Republicans as possible.

Common Cause of North Carolina and the League of Women Voters sued over the new maps, alleging partisan gerrymandering violates voters' rights as much as racial gerrymandering.

"Voters and even most elected officials agree that partisan gerrymandering is violating the constitutional rights of Americans all over the country," Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the League of Women Voters, said in a statement Thursday evening. "While we are disappointed that the stay was granted, North Carolinians deserve to participate in fair elections in 2018. We are optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court will, before the end of this term in June, recognize the harm to our democracy created by partisan gerrymandering and find such egregious efforts to diminish voters’ power unconstitutional."

The Supreme Court heard arguments on a similar lawsuit out of Wisconsin in October but has not yet ruled on that case's central questions. Partisan gerrymanders have been accepted in the past, but these cases could create new precedents, changing the way election maps are drawn nationwide.

"This fight is far from over," Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, said in a statement. "We are confident that the court will ultimately agree that the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymander violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina citizens."