RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s legislative districts are set for the 2020 elections after the state Supreme Court refused on Friday to fast-track a redistricting appeal. That decision led the plaintiffs who successfully sued based on partisan bias claims to end their legal challenges.
The state’s highest court denied the request by Common Cause and state Democrats to step in and hear their appeal on eight state House districts now, rather than require it go through the intermediate Court of Appeals first. The justices gave no reason in their one-sentence order.
Without the bypass to the state Supreme Court, any appeal would have resulted in a lengthy process that probably wouldn’t have been resolved until the 2020 elections were over, making a ruling on the districts’ final shapes largely moot. So the plaintiffs have decided to quit, focusing instead on what their 2018 litigation accomplished.
“We won’t appeal further,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “We’re pleased that our landmark victory … has clearly established that partisan gerrymandering is illegal in North Carolina.”
A panel of trial-court judges ordered the Republican-controlled General Assembly to redraw several dozen House and Senate districts that they declared had been enacted in 2017 with the goal of preserving GOP majorities above all else. That violated the state constitution, the judges ruled. The legislature approved replacement boundaries in September.
The Sept. 3 ruling by the state judges marked the first state court decision nationwide against partisan gerrymandering since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that federal courts should stay out of partisan bias claims, but left the door open for state intervention.
The plaintiffs, which includes the state Democratic Party and Democratic voters, objected to 19 new state House districts in five regions or county combinations, saying they were still flawed by excessive partisanship. But the three-judge panel upheld all of the new districts that the General Assembly had approved.
The plaintiffs then said they would appeal the eight House districts only to the state Supreme Court and asked for the accelerated review, since final plans needed to be settled by mid-December for the March 3 primary to be held as scheduled. Lawyers for Republican legislative leaders told the state Supreme Court the case didn’t merit a fast-track appeal.
Barring intervention by these same judges presiding over a congressional redistricting case, candidate filing for all 170 state House and Senate seats will begin Dec. 2. The final 2020 districts appear to improve prospects for Democratic seat gains, but that doesn’t ensure the party will take back the chambers from the Republicans.
The state Supreme Court on Friday also denied in a one-sentence order a motion by the GOP legislators to have Associate Justice Anita Earls recused from the litigation. Earls was an attorney in redistricting challenges of North Carolina district maps earlier this decade before her 2018 election victory.
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