January 24, 2014
RALEIGH — The 2014 elections will go on as planned after North Carolina’s highest court refused to delay them while the justices consider the legality of the most recent version of election districts.
The state Supreme Court announced Friday its denial of a motion by election and civil rights advocacy groups and Democratic voters challenging the boundaries for General Assembly seats and North Carolina’s congressional delegation.
They wanted to halt the start of the election schedule that begins Feb. 10 with candidate filing, as well as the May 6 primary, until the court ruled whether the boundaries are legal. The state’s highest court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the maps earlier this month.
The groups’ attorneys pointed out the Supreme Court delayed 2002 legislative elections as litigation after that round of redistricting worked its way through the courts. That year, the primary wasn’t held until September.
The justices gave no additional explanation beyond a one-word denial decided Thursday, according to the court’s website. No ruling was released Friday on the maps themselves.
The set of maps approved by the Republican-led legislature in 2011 already had been used in the 2012 elections. Faced with a similar request by the same plaintiffs two years ago, a panel of three Superior Court judges that ultimately upheld the boundaries declined to delay of the 2012 elections.
Representatives of groups and the lead voter who sued over the maps said Friday they were disappointed by the decision.
“It’s unfortunate that the court would choose not to follow its own precedent from the previous redistricting cycle when those unconstitutional districts were being reviewed,” Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville, a former state House member, said in a release.
Lawyers representing the state and Republican legislative leaders had asked the justices to reject the injunction request, saying it was filed too late and that the three Superior Court judges had found the plans “are constitutional in all respects.”
The big difference now compared with 2002, said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett and the House’s redistricting chief, is that a trial judge in 2002 had found the legislative districts drawn by Democrats as unconstitutional.
“This situation is exactly the opposite,” Lewis said in an interview, calling the injunction request a “frivolous attempt” to delay the elections.
Two lawsuits filed in late 2011 want the congressional and legislative maps struck down and redrawn. They allege the boundaries are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders that cluster black voters in districts so that seats around them are more apt to elect Republicans.
The lawsuits also contend mapmakers violated the requirement that the fewest number of counties be divided in forming General Assembly districts. Republicans say the districts are lawful and were designed to protect the state from legal claims under the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
The boundaries, in place for use through the 2020 elections, helped the GOP expand their majorities in the legislature and win nine of the state’s 13 congressional seats during the 2012 elections. Robeson County, which had been in District 7, which had been represented since 1997 by Lumberton native Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, went into District 8, which is now represented by Republican Richard Hudson.
Whatever the final ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, the legal fight may not be over. A federal lawsuit was filed voters in the fall challenging congressional districts.