RALEIGH – On Monday the North Carolina General Assembly will file a request for stay of enforcement pending appeal following the federal judges’ decision Friday that ruled the state’s district map to be unconstitutional. If the stay is not issued, a special legislative session would be held next week.
The three-judge panel’s decision said the current district map violates the 14th Amendment because race was the dominant factor in it’s design. They directed lawmakers to redraw the districts before any congressional elections can be held. It comes as the March 15 primary looms just 37 days away and absentee ballots have already gone out.
“I’m very disappointed that these three appointed judges are so far out of touch with the way things run they didn’t even ask for an evidentiary hearing with the State Board of Elections that would have told them what the impact of their errant decision was,” said Rep. David Lewis, chairman of the House redistricting committee. Lewis issued a joint statement with Sen. Bob Rucho, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, saying that the lack of a stay would “throw our state into chaos by nullifying ballots that have already been sent out and votes that have already been cast.”
The stay asks that implementation of the decision be held off until after the November election, saying that they cannot have different maps for the primary and November elections. The appeal of the ruling, also filed Monday, could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. If justices reject the appeal or decline to take up the case, the legislature must redraw the districts.
The appeal opposes the judges’ decision, which rejected arguments that that the lines were drawn in 2011 in part to benefit minority voters in accordance with the Voting Rights Act. Opponents of the maps say the district lines gather minority voters into a limited number of districts to give an overall advantage to Republicans. The maps were drawn in 2011 as part of the congressional redistricting plan. The U.S. Department of Justice pre-cleared the maps in 2011, and the North Carolina Supreme Court has twice ruled that the maps are constitutional.
Lewis said he was confident that the U.S. Supreme Court would reverse the ruling.
“They accused us with a broad brush of doing racial gerrymandering but did not describe what they would have considered as constitutional. They also failed to recognize more than 30 years of litigation and opinions and judicial precedent, and have essentially turned the Voting Rights Act on its ear,” said Lewis.
House Speaker Tim Moore’s communication director, Mollie Young, said that they hope for a decision on the stay shortly. In the meantime, the Speaker has contacted House members to advise them that he may call a special legislative session starting as early as Monday, should the stay be denied.