Under the Dome

Plaintiffs want redistricting case to stay on course

Sen. Bob Rucho, chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, reviews a new map during a special session in the Legislative Office Building at the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
Sen. Bob Rucho, chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, reviews a new map during a special session in the Legislative Office Building at the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Supporters of elections with new legislative district maps are asking federal judges to force the state to proceed as planned.

Late last month the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ordered the General Assembly to redraw 28 racially gerrymandered state House and Senate districts by March 15 and hold special primaries and a general election by November. The ruling shortens the terms of all legislators elected this November to one year.

After the ruling, the defendants, General Assembly redistricting committee heads Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, and Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, formally requested the court stay the process. They called the court decision politically motivated and said it disregards that the state Constitution requires House and Senate members be elected to two-year terms.

Their attorneys argued that the General Assembly needs more time to draw and vet new maps and also asked the Middle District Court for an expedited ruling so they can immediately appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

In a brief filed on Friday, lead attorneys for the plaintiffs formally urge the Middle District Court to stick to the current deadlines.

“Just as the redrawing of congressional districts was not stayed, we are arguing that the redrawing and the election of the legislative districts should not be delayed while the appeal proceeds,” attorney Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said on Thursday in a phone interview.

A concurrent racial gerrymandering lawsuit involving North Carolina’s congressional districts is being heard by the Supreme Court. A stay request for that case was denied.

Speaking outside a special legislative session on Wednesday, Rucho said that if the Middle District Court stay isn’t granted, his side could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m assuming that when they (the Middle District Court) make their decision, if we don’t like that decision, we’ll go to the Supreme Court and ask them to stay it,” he said.

It’s like a balloon. You push one part and it comes out on the other side.

Sen. Bob Rucho, Mecklenburg County Republican

The Middle District Court’s three-judge panel — U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn and district judges Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder — could issue their ruling as early as this week, court observers said.

Across the country, North Carolina’s gerrymandering cases are being closely watched. They feature multiple story lines including how many legislative districts will be redrawn.

The federal court has flagged 28 districts around Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville, in addition to rural areas of eastern North Carolina. The redrawing process will affect others.

“But nobody knows for sure,” Rucho said. “It’s like a balloon. You push one part and it comes out on the other side. What is worse is that if indeed they have to be redrawn, there are no guidelines.”

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