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NC Republicans seek stay of court's gerrymandering decision

Anne Blythe, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in News & Features

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Republican state lawmakers appealed the U.S. Supreme Court to block an appeals court ruling this week that struck down North Carolina's congressional districts –– at least temporarily –– and they want an answer by Jan. 22.

Phil Strach, the Raleigh-based attorney representing Republican lawmakers in the gerrymandering case, said in his request for an emergency stay on the order issued Tuesday that a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "has used an entirely novel legal theory to hopelessly disrupt North Carolina's upcoming congressional elections."

On Tuesday, the panel ruled that in 2016, the Republican-led state General Assembly unconstitutionally gerrymandered the state's 13 congressional districts to ensure their party's "domination of the state's congressional delegation."

The judges –– James A. Wynn, W. Earl Britt, and William L. Osteen Jr. –– gave the lawmakers until Jan. 24 to adopt new maps, which are to be turned in to the court with a record of any hearings by Jan. 29.

The filing period for candidates in the 2018 elections in North Carolina begins Feb. 12.

"Prohibiting the state from using the duly enacted districting map that governed its last election cycle is not just practically disruptive, but represents a grave and irreparable sovereign injury," Strach said in the request for intervention.

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Additionally, Strach said, blocking the effects of the order by the three judges would be in keeping what the Supreme Court did in a Wisconsin case that tests the breadth to which lawmakers can redistrict for partisan gain. That case points to the "efficiency gap," a theory that gerrymanders force the disadvantaged party to "waste" votes. Voters are shifted into districts where their votes won't matter, either because their party's candidate can't win or is already sure to win.

Strach also mentioned a Maryland redistricting case in which Republican challengers have accused Democrats in power of drawing a congressional district to weaken their party's vote in violation of free speech rights.

Both legal arguments were made in the North Carolina case, the first ruling in which the federal courts have found congressional districts to be unconstitutional gerrymanders.

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters argued that the plan violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment because it discriminated against non-Republican voters. The groups argued that free speech rights were violated because the plan discriminated against voters based on previous political expression. They also argued that the congressional election map interfered with the right of the people to elect their representatives.


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