RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republican legislators have started trying to block a federal court ruling ordering them to draw new congressional districts because the judges said the GOP went too far to protect its partisan advantage with the current boundaries.
Lawyers for legislative leaders filed a request Thursday asking a three-judge panel to quickly delay enforcement of their ruling filed this week directing lawmakers approve a new map by Jan. 24.
The judges’ decision found illegal partisan gerrymandering in the 2016 congressional map from which Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 seats. Republicans could face trouble retaining a few of those seats in November should the ruling stay in place and lines be retooled.
In Thursday’s motion, a prerequisite before a stay request can be filed at the U.S. Supreme Court, GOP attorneys wrote the ruling should wait on its order because the justices are likely to step in anyway. The three-judge panel’s decision is likely to be altered by the Supreme Court once it rules in similar partisan gerrymandering cases before it from Wisconsin and possibly Maryland, lawyer Phil Strach wrote.
There’s also not enough time for the judges to review a new map before candidate filing begins Feb. 12, the motion reads. The judges plan to appoint an expert to draw another set of maps in case the legislature doesn’t act or approves another defective map.
“The introduction of multiple congressional plans in addition to the 2016 plan will create mass confusion for voters and candidates right before the opening of the critical filing period,” Strach wrote. Although the Republican legislators asked that the panel make a ruling later Thursday, the court instead set a deadline for early next week for more briefs on the request from election advocacy groups and Democrats that sued over the maps, along with the GOP defendants.
Tuesday’s decision by three-judge panel marked the first time a congressional map had been struck down as a partisan gerrymander nationwide.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn, writing the case’s main opinion, said the current map violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and was enacted by Republicans “with the intent of discriminating against voters who favored non-Republican candidates.”
A majority on the panel also agreed the rights of members of the minority party in each district saw their rights to free speech and association violated because their favored candidates had little chance of winning under the map.
Separately Thursday, the Republican lawmakers filed a notice that they would appeal the panel’s actual decision to the Supreme Court.