Court declines stay in redistricting; Congress elections off

AP News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2016 11:17 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Friday night to stop a lower-court order demanding North Carolina legislators draw a new congressional map, meaning House primary elections won't occur next month as scheduled and are shifted to June.

The denial of the request by state of North Carolina attorneys for the justices to intervene came just hours after Republican lawmakers meeting in Raleigh voted for redrawn boundaries as a safeguard to comply with a federal court ruling that called two majority black districts racial gerrymanders. A new congressional elections calendar also was approved.

The General Assembly reconvened and passed a new map because a three-judge panel had ordered a replacement by Friday.

State attorneys argued that absentee ballots already were being requested for the March 15 primary election, and blocking districts used since 2011 would create electoral chaos and a costly separate House primary later in the year. But voters who sued over the boundaries said they shouldn't have to vote in illegal districts for another election cycle, like in 2012 and 2014.

The refusal — a one-sentence decision that said Chief Justice John Roberts had referred the request to the entire court — means the congressional primary elections will now occur June 7 under new boundaries that put two incumbents in the same district and seriously jeopardize the re-election of Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, who is now living in a strong Republican district.

Mollie Young, a spokeswoman for GOP House Speaker Tim Moore, said the legislative leaders' attorneys would review the decision before making a comment.

The state's separate formal appeal of the three-judge panel's decision continues regardless of the justices' decision on the stay. But the stay denial marks a substantial defeat for GOP legislators, who drew the districts in 2011.

The Feb. 5 lower-court decision found illegal the majority black 1st and 12th Districts as drawn by Republican legislators earlier this decade because lawmakers improperly used race predominantly to determine the districts' shape and voting populations. The 1st District covered all or parts of 24 counties from Durham to Elizabeth City and New Bern. The 12th District, represented since late 2014 by Adams, took in parts of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, largely linked along Interstate 85.

Two voters who sued in 2013 said legislators packed black voters into the two districts while diminishing their influence in surrounding districts. Attorneys for legislative leaders and the state disagree and said the districts were drawn fairly and in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and past redistricting decisions. An email seeking comment from the plaintiffs was sent to one of their attorneys late Friday.

Even with U.S. House races delayed, North Carolina's March 15 primary includes the presidential preference primaries; races for governor, U.S. Senate and the General Assembly; and a $2 billion bond referendum.

According to Republican lawmakers that drew the updated map, the boundaries give the GOP a solid chance to retain 10 of the 13 seats in North Carolina's congressional delegation. They also said they did not take the racial makeup of the state's population into account at all in drawing the new boundaries.

Still, the black voting-age population fell well below 50 percent in both the 1st District and the 12th District, according to a legislative document using 2010 census figures. The 12th District was moved completely to the county containing Charlotte, about 90 miles from where Adams lives in Greensboro.

Democrats complained Republicans created an excessive partisan gerrymander and were required by the Voting Rights Act to consider race at least somewhat when drawing the map to protect minority voting power.

The new map was filed late Friday with the federal court where the three-judge panel ruled. Those who sued could ask the judges to examine the new maps for compliance with their order, or the judges could hold a hearing themselves.