RALEIGH, N.C. — A three-judge panel Friday refused North Carolina Republican lawmakers’ request to block the use of new legislative district maps the judges approved for this year’s elections.
Even with the unanimous denial by the federal judges, GOP lawmakers have a similar request pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts wants a brief from the voters who’ve successfully sued over state House and Senate districts by late next week. Candidate filing begins Feb. 12, with primaries to be held in May.
Republican legislative leaders “fall far short of meeting their ‘heavy burden’ to obtain the extraordinary relief of a stay under the unique facts of this case,” the judges wrote.
The lower-court judges agreed this month that district boundaries approved by the General Assembly in August still contained lingering racial bias from boundaries first approved in 2011. The judges also decided lawmakers violated the state constitution by redrawing several districts when they didn’t have to.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn and District Judges Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder appointed a special master to fix the districts’ perceived problems. The redistricting expert refigured nine districts, some of which reverted to their 2011 positions. With surrounding districts also having to be tweaked, the number of altered districts grew to 24, compared with the 170 House and Senate seats.
The judges rejected arguments of the GOP’s lawyers that they had created a new racial gerrymandering test, and wrote that boundary changes are limited and can be implemented with minimal harm to the state or legislators. Meanwhile, the voters who sued wrote earlier this week that legislative elections had been held in 2012, 2014 and 2016 in districts that the judges determined contained illegal racial gerrymanders.
The “defendants have themselves acknowledged that the court’s remedy would be timely, and a stay would only prolong the constitutional harms that have persisted for more than six years,” the judges wrote.
Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate, giving them the ability to approve their conservative agenda largely at will since 2013.
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to block enforcement of a Jan. 9 lower-court decision that struck down the state’s congressional map for excessive partisanship. The legislature would have had to draw new districts this week. Like the legislative district matter, GOP legislators say they’re appealing the full congressional ruling to the Supreme Court.