Democrats, allies ask North Carolina judges to change maps
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democratic voters and their allies pressed ahead Wednesday to get more General Assembly districts changed before the fall elections, even though hours before the U.S. Supreme Court had weighed in on redrawn districts ahead of candidate filing in North Carolina.
Democrats and other plaintiffs in a legislative redistricting case in state court asked three Superior Court judges to rule the GOP-controlled legislature violated the state constitution when it redrew five House districts last summer. They want those districts in and around Charlotte and Raleigh returned to their shapes as originally drawn in 2011. They also want changes made to districts surrounding the five that also were recently redrawn by a special master appointed by a federal court.
A panel of federal judges approved these boundary changes last month. Then on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and temporarily blocked those changes while Republican lawmakers appeal.
In Wednesday’s filing, lawyers wrote that the state judicial panel still has the authority to intervene despite the Supreme Court’s order. That’s because the issue is a state issue, particularly a provision in the state constitution that prohibits redistricting during the middle of decade, the lawyers contend. They want a ruling before candidate filing begins Monday.
The Supreme Court’s order “does not deprive this state court of the authority of duty to interpret the state constitution and to ensure that (the plaintiffs) are afforded full constitutional relief,” attorneys Allison Riggs and Eddie Speas wrote for their clients. The plaintiffs in the longstanding case include the state NAACP, League of Women Voters of North Carolina, other groups and voters.
A key House Republican on redistricting matters said Wednesday’s filing is a last-minute effort by Democrats to get more districts that benefit their candidates this fall. Instead, Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County said, they are sowing confusion for voters and election system chaos.
“These Democratic groups lose in state court, they run to federal court. When they lose in federal court, they run back to state court. It is judge shopping, pure and simple,” Lewis said at a news conference. “They are trying to ignore a Supreme Court decision that came out less than 24 hours ago.”
The state constitution says House and Senate districts “shall remain unaltered until the return of another decennial census of population taken by order of Congress.” Democrats pointed out lawyers for the Republican legislative leaders who’ve been sued have argued that state court is the place where this issue should be heard.
Wednesday’s emergency motion came the same day a federal judge refused to delay her order last week directing that North Carolina hold primaries for appellate court seats this year. Candidate filing also would begin Monday.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles rejected the request by Republican legislators, who last fall decided to cancel primary elections for all judgeships in 2018.
The state Democratic Party and several county parties sued to restore those primaries. Eagles issued a preliminary injunction requiring primaries for the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, but allowed primaries for trial court seats to remain canceled while lawmakers debate redrawing judicial election districts.
A lawyer for Republican lawmaker said appellate court primaries should be cancelled, too, because legislators could put on the ballot this May a statewide referendum that would change how those judges and justices are selected.
But Eagles said there was no evidence presented to her on how that could affect this year’s elections. Republicans already have filed an appeal at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lewis said Wednesday he’s not that concerned about the state having to hold appellate court primaries if it’s ultimately required.