North Carolina Republicans ask United States Supreme Court to block congressional redistricting plan

Published 8:26 am Monday, February 28, 2022

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By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

North Carolina Republicans asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to block a congressional redistricting plan that state judges drew last week, initiating a last-ditch effort to derail a map that likely would give Democrats another seat on Capitol Hill in 2023.

GOP legislative leaders argue that the boundaries — which replaced a map that the legislature approved earlier this month — violate the U.S. Constitution. Candidate filing under the map began Thursday and continues through this week.

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Since the Constitution allows state lawmakers to determine the manner of holding U.S. House elections, the panel of three state judges overstepped its authority in adopting boundaries that weren’t set by the state House and Senate, an attorney for the Republican leaders wrote. The state Supreme Court also allowed the adopted map to be used.

The attorney, David Thompson, filed an emergency request asking that the high court set aside the new map while he seeks arguments on the constitutional question before the full court. If the map isn’t set aside, he wrote, his clients will be “losing forever the opportunity to appeal the orders … before the 2022 elections are conducted under a judicially crafted and unconstitutional congressional map.”

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 — stretching from parts of Raleigh south into three fast-growing counties — is a likely toss-up.

The state Supreme Court refused to block the use of the map on Wednesday night, less than 12 hours before candidate filing in North Carolina resumed following a two-and-a-half-month hiatus. The U.S. Supreme Court may be hard-pressed to intervene.

Historically, justices have been wary of getting involved in state elections when an election season is already underway. The stay request was sent to Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles emergency appeals originating from North Carolina.

In December, the state justices suspended candidate filing and delayed the March 8 primary until May 17. That was to allow a trial to move forward on litigation filed by voters and advocacy groups against the congressional and legislative redistricting maps the GOP-controlled legislature approved in November.

Ultimately, in a 4-3 ruling favoring the court’s Democratic majority, the state Supreme Court struck down those maps, calling them illegal partisan gerrymanders. Evidence presented at a trial showed the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” that would have given the GOP 10 of the 14 seats in almost every political environment.

The trial panel then rejected a remedial map of U.S. House seats created by the legislature, saying it failed to meet the standards the state Supreme Court justices set for partisan fairness. Those boundaries likely would have created four very competitive districts, with Republicans in good shape to win six of the remaining 10 seats.

The court-ordered map, which likely would be used in the 2022 elections only, “achieves the partisan fairness and ‘substantially equal voting power’ required by the Supreme Court,” according to a report from special experts hired by the trial judges.

Thompson said his clients also want the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state Supreme Court’s rulings invalidating their original congressional map.

Allison Riggs, a lawyer representing Common Cause in the litigation, said GOP legislators were now “outrageously” attempting to insert the U.S. Supreme Court into state laws less than three years after the justices ruled state courts could use their own laws to curb partisan gerrymandering.

“We are confident this specious attempt to undermine our judiciary will be rejected,” Riggs said in a news release. The U.S. Supreme Court told Common Cause and other litigants to respond to the stay request by Wednesday.

If the map is allowed to stand, a likely additional Democratic seat will make it a little tougher for national Republicans to take control of the U.S. House in the fall.

The state judicial panel and state Supreme Court upheld replacement state House and Senate districts, which are not part of Friday’s appeal.