RALEIGH – The N.C. House has approved the new congressional district maps that were passed by the Senate on Thursday. The reconfigured maps are in Senate Bill 2 that was written to comply with the three-judge panel’s decision last week ruling the current maps unconstitutional because of their reliance on race as a dominant factor in borders.
To allow for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, the legislation states that the new map is law “unless the United States Supreme Court reverses or stays the decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina holding unconstitutional (the districts that) existed prior to the enactment of this act (or the decision is otherwise enjoined, made inoperable, or ineffective)….”
N.C. lawmakers requested a stay from the Supreme Court last week, before the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia is lying in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court building today with a memorial service planned for tomorrow. In the meantime, the General Assembly worked in a special session this week to meet the judge panel’s February 19 deadline.
“We recognize that this condensed timeline – mandated by the federal trial court – has been frustrating and confusing for the people of North Carolina, but we are pleased that we were able to make this process as transparent and open to public comment as possible,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett). Lewis is House chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting. “This map – the only one put forward for consideration – is practicable, fair, and respectfully complies with court order. We still remain hopefully optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a stay soon to help avoid all confusion and the cost of a stand-alone congressional primary in June.”
A select bipartisan redistricting committee was appointed to draw the new maps using a tool called Maptitude that allows users to put algorithms for population density and district continuity. Race is not a variable available in the software.
While the N.C. House was passing the Senate’s redistricting legislation, the Senate passed the House’s bill to suspend the March 15 congressional races and move the primary to June 7, 2016. The gubernatorial primary, the presidential primary and the Connect NC bond vote will still go before voters as planned on March 15. Fiscal researchers at the General Assembly estimate that the special congressional primary will cost the state $9 million.
“While we wish North Carolina voters didn’t have to deal with the chaos, confusion and costliness associated with a federal trial court’s 11th hour changing of the current primary election, we hope this legislation will at least bring some clarity and order back into the process,” said Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg.) “It is vitally important that all voters continue to cast ballots in every race to ensure their voices are heard no matter what the courts ultimately decide.”
The General Assembly is urging voters who have requested absentee ballots to vote and send them back in. If the stay granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the March 15 primary would go forward for all races as originally planned.