Wake Ed

Appeals court won’t reconsider Wake County school board decision

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request to reconsider a ruling that keeps alive a legal challenge of Wake County school board election maps drawn in 2013 by the General Assembly.

In May, an appellate panel issued a 2-1 decision that reversed the dismissal of the lawsuit challenging the new Wake school lines. The panel’s decision was put on hold while the Wake County Board of Elections requested all 15 justices on the Fourth Circuit to hear the appeal.

The full appellate court turned down the request in July. The lawsuit has now been sent back to a trial court for further consideration based on the May ruling.

The case was reassigned from U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle because his son, W. Ellis Boyle, was recently named secretary of the Wake County Board of Elections.

The case will now be heard by Chief District Court Judge James C. Dever III. A separate lawsuit challenging the General Assembly’s redistricting of Wake County Board of Commissioners’ lines was also reassigned from Boyle to Dever.

No trial date has been set yet for each lawsuit. But one advantage of the change for court watchers is that Dever’s courtroom is in Raleigh so people wouldn’t have to travel to Boyle’s courtroom in Elizabeth City.

At issue is whether the Republican-led legislature in June 2013 drew new voting districts of unequal size to weaken the influence of urban voters and strengthen the chances for suburban voters to return a GOP majority to the Wake County school board.

Five of the nine Wake school board seats were originally going to be on the October 2015 ballot. But that changed when lawmakers redrew the lines and put all nine school board seats on the November 2016 ballot.

The next year could determine whether the legislature’s lines stand or if a different set of maps are used for the 2016 school board contests.

While the lawsuits for the school board and commissioners’ lines are separate, each case could affect the other. The new lines the General Assembly approved in April for the Wake County Board of Commissioners are identical to the ones adopted for the Wake school board.

Opponents to the new Wake lines, many of whom are Democratic activists, haven’t had as much success as the plaintiffs in a Guilford County lawsuit. In July, a federal judge issued an injunction preventing the implementation of new lines that the General Assembly had adopted for the Greensboro City Council.