Lawyers ask US justices not to block new NC Congress map

Published 11:56 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2022

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — North Carolina voters and advocacy groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reject an effort by state Republicans to block a congressional district map drawn by state judges that would likely give Democrats an additional House seat in 2023.

GOP legislative leaders filed an emergency request last Friday with Chief Justice John Roberts asking that the court set aside the new map while they seek to challenge the ability of the state’s judiciary to adjust the lines in light of the U.S. Constitution. They say the delay should be granted because the Constitution directs state lawmakers to determine how U.S. House elections are held.

A three-judge panel adopted congressional boundaries last week that weren’t enacted by the state House and Senate. The judges said changes were necessary because lines approved by the legislature in mid-February had failed to meet the standards for partisan fairness that the state Supreme Court says is required.

The state justices set those qualifications after declaring that lines drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in November were illegal partisan gerrymanders favoring the GOP in most every political circumstance to win 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats.

Before a Wednesday afternoon deadline, the plaintiffs in lawsuits that led to the gerrymandering declarations wrote that for over 100 years the U.S. Supreme Court has held that nothing in the Constitution “alters a state court’s unreviewable authority to invalidate a congressional districting plan that violates a state’s constitution.”

The GOP’s arguments, if accepted, would essentially overturn a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared state constitutions and courts had authority to rein in maps determined to be too partisan, the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote. Republicans also want the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state Supreme Court’s rulings invalidating their original congressional map.

“Even an emergency stay on the basis of their theory would call into doubt dozens of state constitutional provisions regulating congressional elections, causing chaos across the country in the runup to the 2022 elections,” wrote Abha Khanna, an attorney for voters supported in their lawsuit by an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

GOP lawmakers now get one more chance with written arguments. There’s no word on when the court will rule, but candidate filing for North Carolina’s May 17 primaries ends at noon Friday. Justices in the past have been wary of getting involved in state elections when an election season is already underway.

In their own filing, government attorneys for the State Board of Elections asked the justices to stick to this principle now, saying a delay at this date would jeopardize the orderly administration of this year’s elections. The elections board was a defendant in the lawsuits. All primaries in North Carolina already have been delayed once from March 8 by the state Supreme Court, so redistricting litigation could go to trial.

A delay, wrote lawyer Zach Schauf for the plaintiff North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, would likely push back the primary further, likely requiring a redo of candidate filings.

The Republicans “make an 11th-hour request to throw North Carolina’s elections into disarray,” Schauf said. “And it could condemn millions of North Carolinians to voting under maps that violate the state constitution.”

Eight of North Carolina’s 13 current U.S. House seats are held by Republicans. The state will receive an additional seat with the 2022 elections thanks to population growth. North Carolina is closely divided when it comes to statewide elections.

The redistricting map adopted by the trial judges appears to give Democrats a good chance to win a sixth seat, with Republicans in a strong position to win seven seats. One district is a likely toss-up.

In adopting its own map, the trial panel rejected a remedial map of House seats created by the legislature that would have created four very competitive districts, with Republicans in good shape to win six of the remaining seats.

Seats are extremely important to the parties as national Republicans attempt to wrest control of the U.S. House from Democrats in the fall.