Voters ask US Supreme Court not to delay legislative maps

AP News
Posted: Feb 02, 2018 4:27 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Dozens of North Carolina voters are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure this year's legislative elections are held under district lines redrawn recently by federal judges, since previous elections this decade occurred under what have been deemed unconstitutional maps.

Their legal brief filed Friday asked the court to refuse a request by Republican legislative leaders. The GOP officials had asked the high court to block enforcement of a ruling last month by three judges approving a court-appointed expert's changes to House and Senate lines.

If the GOP request is denied, then the amended maps would be used beginning with candidate filing for the General Assembly on Feb. 12. If the request is approved, then districts likely would be used this fall that are again tainted by racial bias, as happened during the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections, lawyers for the voters wrote.

"The citizens of North Carolina have been forced to endure an egregious racial gerrymander for over six years and three election cycles," Jessica Ring Amunson wrote in the brief to Chief Justice John Roberts, who receives appeals from North Carolina. "If the court grants the stay, the voters of North Carolina will have to endure another election under unconstitutional legislative maps, and (the Republicans) will be rewarded for their tactics of delay at nearly every stage of this case."

There's no timetable when Roberts or the entire court will decide.

The voters originally sued in 2015, and the following year the three judges ruled that House and Senate redistricting performed by the Republican-dominated legislature in 2011 contained 28 districts that relied too heavily on race. They said the maps must be thrown out and redrawn. The Supreme Court upheld that decision last June.

The General Assembly said it didn't use racial data in August when new lines were drawn, but the same judges decided four new districts were too similar to the 2011 districts, reflecting continued racial bias. Another five House districts also shouldn't have been altered, the judges said, because that violated the state constitution's provision against mid-decade redistricting.

The judges asked a special master to redraw the maps to address their concerns. Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily ultimately altered two dozen districts compared to the 170 districts the legislature approved last August.

The legislative leaders told Roberts last week in their brief that the Supreme Court should reverse the panel's ruling that found racial gerrymandering in last summer's maps even though no racial data was used in drawing them.

Republicans last summer hired the same outside mapmaker who drew the faulty 2011 districts. So by Republican arguments, Amunson wrote, the exact same 2011 maps could have been approved again as long as the mapmaker turned "off the racial-data feature in his redistricting software this time around."

Although candidate filing begins in 10 days, the legislature could extend the filing period if it chooses, and the legislative primary elections aren't scheduled until May 8, meaning there would be little disruption to the election schedule, she said.

"There are no unusual circumstances that would warrant holding yet another election under unconstitutional maps," Amunson wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court acted in another North Carolina redistricting matter last month. The justices delayed enforcement of a lower-court decision that struck down the state's congressional map for excessive partisanship and would have required new districts be drawn by last week.