NC's top court rejects request to delay 2014 primaries

ablythe@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

— The N.C. Supreme Court has rejected a request to delay the 2014 primary elections.

Groups challenging the North Carolina legislative and congressional districts drawn three years ago had sought the delay. With no elaboration as to why, the state’s highest court issued its decision Friday.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Democratic voters and civil rights groups argued that it would be disruptive to proceed with the established election cycle while constitutional questions linger about the 2011 maps.

The filing period for candidates seeking seats in the state General Assembly and the U.S. House is set to open Feb. 10 and close on Feb. 28. Primary elections are set for May 6.

“Sufficient time may not now exist for this Court to properly resolve the significant federal and state constitutional questions presented in this appeal,” the request for relief stated.

The attorneys argued that a delay would let prospective candidates “know with certainty the configuration of the election districts” before they filed for office. Not doing so, the redistricting challengers contended, could lead to disruption for candidates, election officials and the public if the legal process led to districts with different shapes.

Attorneys who sought the delay had pointed to a court order issued in 2002, when there was a similar challenge of legislative and congressional maps drawn by the General Assembly. The 2002 order halted the election process after it began, shifting the May primary elections to mid-September of that year.

The justices heard arguments on Jan. 6 about the legislative and congressional districts adopted by the Republican legislature three years ago. The districts are intended to be used through the 2020 elections.

In July, a three-member panel of N.C. Superior Court judges validated the districts, rejecting an argument by Democratic voters and civil rights organizations that some of the districts were racially gerrymandered to weaken the influence of black voters.

The NAACP, Democrats and voter-rights organizations have appealed that decision and raised questions about the panel’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years based on the national census. In 2010, Republicans took control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century and led the redrawing of lines.

Favoring Republicans

Though the new maps were immediately challenged after they were drawn in 2011, the districts were used in the 2012 elections and have been shown to favor Republicans.

The GOP expanded its majority in the state legislature in the 2012 elections. In the House, Republicans picked up nine seats and now dominate Democrats, 77-43. The Senate added two Republican members, and the GOP holds a 33-17 advantage.

Republicans also were successful in expanding their majority at the congressional level, taking nine of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats though Democrats carried a higher percentage of the congressional votes.

Republican leaders contend they followed the law when developing the new districts, and they cite sections of the three-judge panel’s ruling to underscore their contentions.

‘Fair and legal’

The chairmen of the General Assembly Redistricting Committees, Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, and Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, released a joint statement after the decision was posted.

“We have said all along that the General Assembly followed the letter of the law in establishing new voting boundaries,” Rucho and Lewis said. “Today’s Supreme Court decision is further evidence that the redistricting process was fair and legal.”

Attorneys for the challengers, though, said they did not see the decision as a setback for their case.

The justices did not rule on the larger issue about whether the districts drawn in 2011 were unconstitutional gerrymanders. It can sometimes take months for the state’s highest court to rule on a case.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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