RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s already too late to hold a special election this fall in redrawn North Carolina General Assembly districts and it could be an “enormously misguided” remedy if judges ordered one, Republican legislative leaders told the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
After the nation’s highest court last week upheld a lower court ruling that threw out 28 House and Senate districts as unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered, voters who sued asked the justices to return the case to a lower court more quickly than normal.
The voters and their Democratic allies still believe there’s time for a three-judge panel to force GOP legislators to redraw the maps immediately and hold 2017 elections. Republican lawmakers prefer holding the first elections with new maps during the next regularly scheduled state election in November 2018.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who considers appeals from North Carolina, asked attorneys for the state to respond by Tuesday afternoon to the voters’ request to speed up the process. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, says there’s no reason to delay what’s known as the ruling’s mandate.
“The state believes that the public interest favors allowing the three-judge court to consider the proper remedy in this case as promptly as possible,” Stein wrote Tuesday.
But Paul Clement, representing the GOP leaders, said the case should be sent back to Greensboro federal court after the routine 25 days. Sending it back immediately could be seized upon to justify elections this fall when doing so could make an already complicated situation worse, Clement wrote.
“Granting the voters’ request is far more likely to encourage a remedy that would result in electoral chaos than one that would make any appreciable step toward fair and effective representation,” Clement told Roberts. It’s unclear when the Supreme Court will rule.
Clement said a mandate needed to have been filed last month for there to be a realistic chance for election officials to hold special elections this fall. There’s time required to draw maps, set a candidate filing period, hold primary and general elections, and comply with state laws to send out absentee ballots several weeks before each election.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that maps should be drawn this month and an election held before next year’s legislative session.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, went further Tuesday, saying legislators should halt all other lawmaking immediately and focus on redrawing districts tainted with racial bias. The boundaries, approved in 2011 by the GOP-controlled General Assembly, have been in place for far too long, Barber said, helping Republicans push policies that have hurt the poor, the uninsured and minority groups.
“They’ve used that power to undermine our democracy,” Barber said.
Last November, the three-judge panel demanded a 2017 special election be held, but the Supreme Court blocked that order temporarily in January. In an order last week, the justices wrote that the lower court had failed to evaluate properly whether moving up the schedule was warranted. The lower court, in a notice Friday, signaled it would assess the election schedule again.