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New test on racial issue in redistricting (UPDATED)

UPDATED 6:41 p.m.    The Chief Justice has asked for a response to this application; it will be due next Tuesday, February 16, by 3 p.m. Eastern time.  Also: note that the docket number of the application has been corrected to 15A809.


Forecasting “election chaos” if the Supreme Court does not act promptly, state officials in North Carolina on Tuesday sought a delay of a lower-court ruling that they said may force the rescheduling of the primary election in that state, now set for March 15.   The three-judge district court has ordered the state legislature to quickly draw new maps governing voting for members of Congress in Districts 1 and 12.

The state legislature, the lower court decided, had engaged in “racial gerrymandering” in fashioning new election boundaries, resulting in black voters making up more than fifty percent of the voting-age population in each of those districts.   State officials insist that this was done for political, not racial, reasons.

North Carolina’s legislature is currently not in session, but the trial court has ordered it to fashion a remedy for the constitutional violation within the next weeks — specifically, by February 19.  But state officials said that such a timetable would disrupt the primary campaign season, because absentee voting has already begun and millions of ballots have already been printed.

Because the time is short, the officials said in their stay application (docket 15A809), the Supreme Court should shorten the time for a response to be filed, and, in the meantime, issue a temporary order against doing anything until such a response is filed.  The state plans to appeal the trial court ruling to the Supreme Court; its ultimate request is to have that decision blocked until after the Justices act on such an appeal.  That would mean, of course, that the districting maps drawn by the state legislature would control at least the primary election on March 15.

If the lower-court ruling is not postponed, state officials said, a primary held on that date would be disrupted so much that state officials could decide to delay balloting until another date.  “The primary election day for hundreds of offices and thousands of candidates is less than forty days away,” the application noted.   Early voting, allowed in the state, is now less than thirty days away, the filing added.

At the time the state’s application was filed at the Court, the lower court had not yet acted on a postponement requested.  In an order Wednesday morning, the three judges refused a delay.

The application was filed with Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who handles emergency matters for the federal geographic area, the F0urth Circuit, which includes North Carolina.  Roberts has the option of acting on his own, or sharing the issues with his colleagues — now, the usual practice

The Court is already scheduled to rule this Term on a Virginia congressional redistricting case, also involving a lower-court ruling that the state legislature engaged in “racial gerrymandering” in drawing new lines of that state’s District 3.  The Justices will hold a hearing on that case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, on March 21.


Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, New test on racial issue in redistricting (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Feb. 10, 2016, 1:49 PM),