North Carolina Asks Supreme Court to Halt Redistricting Order

Posted February 10, 2016 at 12:25pm

The Supreme Court is again being asked to weigh in on contested congressional districts for this year’s elections, this time with North Carolina warning the justices Wednesday of potential electoral chaos because of a court order this month.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and state election officials asked the justices to allow them to use the current congressional districts for the coming election while they appeal a ruling last week that found two districts were unconstitutional gerrymanders.

The petition went to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the justice assigned to handle such requests from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which includes North Carolina. He can act on it alone or take it to the full court.

North Carolina’s state officials want the justices to halt the Feb. 5 ruling of a three-judge panel of federal judges who found race predominated in the drawing of the state’s 1st and 12th Congressional Districts held respectively by Democrats G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams, both African-Americans. The panel directed the state to draw new congressional districts within a two-week period, or by Feb. 19.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ordered Virginia’s 2016 congressional elections in November to move ahead using a judge-selected redistricting plan. That plan was put in place in January after a court called the 3rd District a racial gerrymander, despite a pending Supreme Court case about that redistricting plan.

The North Carolina order could cause “massive electoral chaos” because the election process started months ago, the state officials say in an application to the Supreme Court.

“Thousands of absentee ballots have been distributed to voters who are filling them out and returning them. Hundreds of those ballots have already been voted and returned. The primary election day for hundreds of offices and thousands of candidates is less than 40 days away and, if the judgment is not stayed, it may have to be disrupted or delayed,” the application says. 

“Early voting for the primary starts in less than 30 days,” it says. “Candidates for Congress have relied on the existing districts for two election cycles (2012 and 2014) and filed for the current seats over two months ago.”

The quick timeline for redrawing districts leaves the state unable to hold public hearings and seek the same level of robust public input that was received in enacting the challenged congressional districts, the officials say.

“But in enjoining elections and providing only two weeks to draw new plans, the three-judge court provided no guidance to the state as to criteria it should follow for new congressional districts and sought no input from the parties regarding the massive electoral chaos and confusion to which such an order would subject North Carolina’s voters,” the officials state.

The state moved up its primary elections from May to March 15, but the case now threatens to delay that as well.

This year, neither the 1st nor the 12th Districts in North Carolina are competitive. Even if African-American voters were moved to other districts, they’d likely remain Democratic districts. Democrats hold three seats in North Carolina, while Republicans hold 10.

Butterfield’s seat in the northeast quarter of North Carolina contains thin strips of the state that reach around other districts to include the cities of Durham and Greenville. Adams’ district starts in Charlotte, nearly bifurcating the 9th District, and continues northeast in a thin strip with tentacles that capture Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

In the Virginia case, the justices issued a one-line order to deny a request from 10 current and former Republican members of Congress to stop the redistricting plan for the November congressional elections. The court didn’t give a reason for its decision.

The court sided with Virginia elections officials over the request from GOP Reps. Rob Wittman, Robert W. Goodlatte, J. Randy Forbes, Morgan Griffith, Scott Rigell, Robert Hurt, Dave Brat and Barbara Comstock, as well as former members, Eric Cantor and Frank R. Wolf.

Underlying the issue are the lines drawn for the majority-black 3rd District held by Virginia Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott. A lower court in 2014 found those lines to be an unconstitutional gerrymander, and a federal three-judge panel decided Jan. 7 to select a new congressional map and put it into effect for the 2016 elections.

The Supreme Court is reviewing the lower court decision in Virginia in a separate case and a decision is expected by the end of June, about four months before the election. The justices are being asked to reverse the 2014 lower court ruling. Oral arguments are scheduled for March. 21.

Simone Pathe contributed to this report.