RALEIGH, N.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling ordering North Carolina legislators to redraw state legislative districts by March 15 and hold special elections within the altered districts this fall.
Tuesday's court order granted the request of North Carolina Republican legislative leaders and state officials to delay November's ruling by a three-judge panel. The same lower court last summer threw out 28 state House and Senate districts as illegal racial gerrymanders.
The Supreme Court says its order will stay in place at least until the court decides whether to hear the appeal. If the justices take up the case, the stay will remain in effect pending a decision.
If no special elections are required, the next round of General Assembly elections would be held in late 2018. The GOP currently holds majorities large enough to override any vetoes by newly installed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Special elections would give Democrats a chance to narrow those margins and give leverage to Cooper.
The voters who sued alleged that Republican lawmakers drew the boundaries to create more predominantly white and Republican districts by effectively cramming black voters into adjacent Democratic districts. GOP lawmakers said the boundaries were drawn to protect them against lawsuits alleging they violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
The state's attorneys filed the request for a delay of the lower court's ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court late last month. They noted that the Supreme Court already had heard oral arguments in lawsuits involving congressional districts in North Carolina and state legislative districts in Virginia, and that its decisions in those cases are pending. The justices' eventual ruling could provide guidance about the use of race in North Carolina's maps, the attorneys said.
Requiring the remapping would have affected more than two-thirds of the 170 House and Senate districts, meaning most lawmakers elected to two-year terms in November would actually only serve one year.