Will high court stay new maps?

Will high court stay new maps?
February 18
00:00 2016



Assuming that there is no stay from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, will North Carolina’s newly configured congressional maps, scheduled to be submitted to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for review Friday, pass muster in time for the upcoming March 15 primaries?

It’s anyone’s guess, apparently. Indeed, if there is one thing that’s clear, it’s that everything about North Carolina’s scheduled March 15 primaries is unclear, especially since absentee voting has already begun.

Ever since the appellate court’s Feb. 5 ruling that the First and Twelfth Congressional Districts were unconstitutional because race, not political affiliation, was the primary factor in their configuration, and had to be immediately redrawn, Republican law-makers have been trying to figure out how best to either stay that court order, or at least look like they’re complying until they have no choice. Very clearly the Republicans, who redrew the congressional and legislative voting district lines in 2011 after they took over the majority in the N.C. General Assembly, do not want to give up the electoral advantage they gained by “stacking and packing” black voters in two wildly configured congressional districts, the First and the Twelfth, critics say. Doing so allowed the GOP to remove black voters from otherwise competitive predominately-white congressional districts, thus allowing Republican candidates to dominate white Democrats during elections.

Critics of the current district maps – in force for the past two election cycles -point to North Carolina’s current congressional delegation of ten Republicans and three Democrats in a state where Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and Republican Mitt Romney won in 2012.

Add to all of the unforeseen confusion the untimely death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend right after the High Court had been petitioned by state lawmakers to stay the lower court order, and very little is clear until Friday.

“There is no indication that Scalia’s vote would make a difference in the decision regarding a stay,” says Irving Joyner, law professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law in Durham. “Chief Justice [John] Roberts [who hears emergency requests from the U.S. Fourth Circuit] can make this decision without consulting with other members of the court, although his practice has been to consult the full court when stays have been requested in other voting rights cases.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed their arguments Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court as to why the appellate court order should not be stayed. “Simply put, a choice between forcing millions of North Carolinians to vote in yet another election under the unconstitutional enacted plan, and taking the administrative steps necessary to hold a constitutional election in 2016 —including delaying the congressional primary election as necessary — is no choice at all,” wrote Marc Elias, plaintiffs’ attorney.

If Roberts doesn’t issue a stay before Friday, then the appellate court order stands, and the state is compelled to submit newly-drawn maps by Friday. If the chief justice does consult the full court, and it comes back 4-4 with Justice Scalia gone, then the same result applies.

However, if Roberts were to answer state law-makers’ prayers and stay the lower court order on his own, that means the March 15 primaries would proceed under the current maps.

That would not please the N.C. NAACP, which hasn’t gotten very far with its own state court challenges to the 2011 redistricting lines.  The civil rights organization has applauded the appellate court order stemming from a federal lawsuit filed by three independent plaintiffs in the First and Third Districts, and this week, blasted “extremist” Republican legislative leaders for wasting literally half of the two-week deadline period they were given to redraw the two unconstitutional districts doing nothing, only to follow-up in the final week with hearings, and a two-day joint session today and Friday.

“These hearings are cynical attempts to create the impression that the redrawn maps had no significant public opposition,” charged Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C.NAACP.  “ In short, the extremists are producing a farce, now that their maps have been called absurd.”

Barber wants the March 15 primaries pushed back to May, where they originally were before this year. He added that waiting until the week of to first hold statewide hearings, and then meet Thursday and Friday without getting public input on the newly configured maps, was “evidence that our extremist leaders continue to act in bad faith.”

If Republican leaders were hoping to use statewide hearings Monday that were abruptly called for last Friday afternoon after 5 p.m. with little public notice as a cover, it may have backfired. According to published reports, those who agreed with the appellate court’s decision to strike down the First and Twelfth districts outnumbered the opposition 2-1, with many blaming law-makers not only for the maps, but the confusion caused by moving up the primaries by two months.

State lawmakers report-ed began redrawing the maps Tuesday considering the testimony drawn from Monday’s hearings. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court says otherwise, the N.C. General Assembly is scheduled to convene today and Friday for votes on the new maps.

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