The U.S. Supreme Court justices offered no clue Thursday as to whether special elections ordered for North Carolina in 2017 will move ahead.
The justices went behind closed doors together in the morning. Materials had been distributed to the eight Supreme Court members on the North Carolina redistricting case in which a federal three-judge panel found 28 state House and Senate districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
The justices issued no order – leaving uncertainty about whether the high court would take up the case, and if so how quickly it would be heard and decided.
The three-judge panel issued its ruling in August. In November, after voters went to the polls to elect candidates in the districts that had been declared unconstitutional, the judges ordered new maps to be drawn for the 28 flawed districts by March and elections held in any of the altered districts this year.
State lawmakers sought emergency intervention from Chief Justice John Roberts in the waning days of December. Nine days ago, Roberts issued an order temporarily blocking the special elections while the justices decide whether to take the case. If they take the case, the block stays in place until the case is decided.
Attorneys for the lawmakers noted in their court filing last month that the Supreme Court already had heard oral arguments in lawsuits involving congressional districts in North Carolina and state legislative districts in Virginia, but have not issued rulings. The attorneys stated that those cases could provide guidance on the use of race in North Carolina maps.
Republican leaders in North Carolina have contended that remapping, as ordered by the three-judge panel, could affect more than two-thirds of the 170 state House and Senate districts. They argued that voters went to the polls in November thinking they were electing representatives for two-year terms, and many of the elected officials would not even serve a full year before facing election again.
The challengers of the maps drawn in 2011 by the Republican-led legislature counter that argument, pointing out that voters have gone to the polls now for three election cycles to elect representatives from districts drawn to weaken the influence of black voters.