A panel of judges rejected a request from Democrats and voters who filed the first lawsuit this decade challenging North Carolina lawmakers’ redistricting plans to provide relief from election districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties they contend are unconstitutional.
The decision came on Monday hours before candidates were set to begin filing for office.
The three superior court judges noted time constraints in their decision and said that while the challengers might indeed have issues appropriate for the state court to consider, they did not arise from the Dickson case.
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The judges said the issues would be best addressed in a new lawsuit.
Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said the challengers are considering next steps.
“We are reviewing what the next steps are for the plaintiffs in the case who have been seeking justice since 2011 and still have not found it,” Riggs said in a statement. “We are concerned by the precedent set in today’s order. When a plan is found to be unconstitutional, it’s only right for the court to review the remedy enacted to make sure that it is legal and fair.”
The challengers asked the state court to block the use of five state House districts adopted by Republican lawmakers last year for Wake and Mecklenburg counties and order them to use election districts drawn by Nathaniel Persily, the Stanford University professor hired by the federal court as a “special master.”
Their request was filed in state court the day after the U.S. Supreme Court partially granted a request from Republican lawmakers to block election lines drawn by Persily for a panel of federal judges.
Republicans contended in the federal case that some of the legal questions should have been settled in state court because they involved questions about violations to the state constitution, but now they are speaking out against further proceedings there.
The case in state court was filed in 2011 by Margaret Dickson, a Democrat and former General Assembly member whose district was changed to limit her chances of winning re-election.
At issue was whether race played a key role in how the Republican-led legislature drew maps that challengers contend reflect a widely criticized redistricting system in which lawmakers choose their voters rather than voters choosing their lawmakers.
Dickson, the state NAACP and other challengers argued that the 2011 maps were racial gerrymanders drawn to weaken the influence of black voters.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state Supreme Court to consider the case for a third time.
Twice, while the state’s high court had a Republican majority, the justices split along party lines, saying that while race had played a role in the drawing of the 2011 maps, it was used to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
In subsequent lawsuits filed in federal court, panels of federal judges concluded differently and ordered new lines drawn for North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts in 2016 to correct unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered North Carolina lawmakers to correct 28 unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in state House and Senate districts.
That’s the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ordered North Carolina’s highest court to take another look at Dickson’s lawsuit. The justices instructed the North Carolina courts to consider previous rulings in light of a 5-3 decision striking down two of North Carolina’s congressional districts as racial gerrymanders.