Supreme Court halts redrawing of North Carolina congressional maps

The Supreme Court on Thursday told state officials in North Carolina they don’t have to redraw their congressional districts just yet.

The court granted a stay, temporarily blocking a lower court order that required new maps to be drawn by the end of the month while the case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

State officials filed a notice of their appeal in the lower court last week.  

The order comes after North Carolina Republicans asked the Supreme Court to block a federal court’s decision after it ruled the state’s maps constituted an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. 

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A three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina said the state’s General Assembly “enacted the plan with the intent of discriminating against voters who favored non-Republican candidates."
 
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, members of the court's liberal wing, would have denied the officials’ application for a stay, according to the high court's order.
 
Attorneys for the state successfully argued that the lower court only gave them 14 days to redraw the state's 2016 maps.  

Appellate lawyer Paul Clement criticized the lower court for appointing a special master to assist the court in drawing an alternative remedial plan and argued the court-ordered timeline would disrupt North Carolina’s congressional election.

“Prohibiting the State from using the duly enacted districting map that governed its last election cycle on the eve of the commencement of the 2018 election cycle is not just practically disruptive, but represents a grave and irreparable sovereign injury,” he said.

Clement argues a stay was warranted because the Supreme Court has already agreed to hear two cases challenging partisan gerrymandering out of Wisconsin and Maryland.

The cases could determine the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering and set a new standard for determining when states have crossed the line and drawn districts to increase the political power of one party over another.

Common Cause, which challenged the maps along with the League of Women Voters, shot back in briefs, claiming the true motive of state officials is to ensure a Republican partisan advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.

“Applicants pay lip service to concerns such as State sovereignty and administrative inconvenience. But their true motive is as plain as day: the Republican contingent of the legislature wants to enjoy the fruits of their grossly unconstitutional actions for yet another election cycle,” the group’s attorneys wrote. “That is not a proper reason to seek a stay, let alone grant one.”

The state has previously had its districts struck down by court order.

In May, the Supreme Court ruled the state illegally packed black voters into two congressional districts by using race as the predominant factor in drawing the districts without a compelling reason.

And in July, three federal judges ordered North Carolina’s state legislature to draw new General Assembly districts. That order impacted 28 of the state’s 170 General Assembly districts, which the court said discriminated against African-American voters.

Updated: 8:23 p.m.