In a one-paragraph order issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States put a court-ordered redrawing of legislative districts and a 2017 special election on hold while it reviews an appeal.
On November 28th, a lower court ruled that some of the legislative districts North Carolina used for their 2016 elections for the General Assembly were unconstitutionally gerrymandered based on race. The court ordered lawmakers to have the districts redrawn by March 15th and hold an unusual off-year election in the new districts.
The new order issued by the Supreme Court will put both the redraw and special election on hold until the Justices convene for a conference on January 19th, at which time they will consider Republican legislators’ appeal to keep the current legislative districts.
When the Supreme Court takes up the case in conference next week they will be reviewing the lower courts decision that found 28 of the 170 legislative districts redrawn in 2011 were drawn with too heavy a reliance on race.
Federal law, established by the Voting Rights Act, requires states to use race as a factor when drawing electoral districts. But constitutional requirements, established by previous Supreme Court decisions, dictate that states cannot use race as a ‘dominate’ factor in such processes because of the Equal Protections Clause.
Earlier in the day, Republican legislators filled an emergency petition with the court asking the court to stop the order to redraw and hold a special election before the legislative session began on Wednesday.
The petition argued that the special election is an “extreme remedy … that cuts more than two-thirds of the state legislators’ constitutionally prescribed terms in half,” adding that the order is “entirely unprecedented and entirely imprudent.”
The attorneys for the legislators argued that a typical order would require the new districts to take effect for the next regularly scheduled election. In the case of North Carolina, that would have been 2018.
Republicans, currently holding super majorities in the both the state House and Senate, reacted accordingly.
“We are grateful the U.S. Supreme Court has quashed judicial activism and rejected an attempt to nullify the votes of North Carolinians in the 2016 legislative elections,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Rockingham) and Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), said in a joint statement.
Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn) made his feelings clear on Twitter.
— David R Lewis (@RepDavidRLewis) January 10, 2017