N.C. Republicans warn of ‘unmitigated chaos’ after judges strike down House district maps

N.C. Republicans warn of ‘unmitigated chaos’ after judges strike down House district maps
© The Hill photo illustration

The top Republicans in North Carolina’s General Assembly say they will appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn a federal court ruling striking down the state’s U.S. House district maps.

State House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate President Phil Berger (R) said Tuesday they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stay an appeals court ruling that ordered new maps drawn before November’s midterm elections, which are 69 days away.

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A three-judge panel on Monday ruled North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts were unconstitutional because they had been drawn with too much consideration of partisanship in order to give Republicans an unfair advantage, in violation of the First Amendment rights of state voters.

The panel gave plaintiffs and respondents until Friday to suggest a path forward, one that could lead to new district lines being drawn just days before the state Board of Elections has to print ballots for midterm elections on Nov. 6.

The federal judges said the state could go as far as nullifying the results of this year’s primary elections, hold a new primary on Nov. 6 and a general election before the new Congress is seated in January. Judges also suggested the state could allow the winners of the primary elections to run in new districts drawn before Election Day.

Moore and Berger said those options would be unprecedented in American history.

“What the court suggests is simply impossible,” the legislative leaders said in a joint statement, noting that they’re “not aware of any other time in the history of our country that a state’s Congressional delegation could not be seated.”

“The result would be unmitigated chaos and irreparable voter confusion,” they added. “The Supreme Court must step in to correct this disastrous decision.”

The maps in question, which the federal appeals panel deemed unconstitutional, were put in place ahead of the 2016 elections, after another federal court ruled the previous maps established after the 2010 Census were unconstitutional because legislators had improperly considered race as a factor in drawing district lines.

North Carolina legislators openly declared they would use political data, rather than demographic data, in drawing the new maps. The plaintiffs in the new case, Common Cause, had argued that those considerations led to maps that violated the U.S. Constitution by improperly considering partisan voting habits.

An appeals court initially agreed, but the Supreme Court remanded the decision back to the appeals level after its June decision in Gill v. Whitford. The appeals court decided Common Cause had the standing to sue on behalf of North Carolina voters, leading to Monday’s decision.

“We’re pleased that a North Carolina federal court has once again stated what we have long believed, that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional,” said Bob Phillips, who heads Common Cause NC.