NC appellate court halts candidate filing under new maps

NC appellate court halts candidate filing under new maps



Minutes before candidate filing for the 2022 races was set to open, the N.C. Court of Appeals stopped the process for N.C. Senate, House and congressional hopefuls. 

The Court of Appeals order was triggered by an appeal from the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, which filed a lawsuit in November challenging the political maps drawn and approved by the North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature. 

On Friday, a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges, consisting of two Republicans and a Democrat, unanimously ruled against delaying candidate filing and the primaries.

Though the presiding judge, Graham Shirley, said gerrymandering “results in an ill that has affected this country and state since Colonial days,” the panel ruled that politically gerrymandered maps are not in violation of the state Constitution. 

The trial judges denied intervention in two cases at the same time. The other, brought by the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, made similar arguments and also requested the election be delayed to draw new political maps. 

By Friday night, both the NCLCV and the foundation filed intentions to appeal. 

In their petition, the foundation criticized the legislature for failing to delay the primaries, despite U.S. census delays caused by the pandemic.

“The Republican-controlled General Assembly sat on its hands: It postponed certain municipal elections but refused to do the same for the congressional primary date in order to leave less time for legal challenges to the gerrymandered congressional districts,” they said.

The NCLCV plaintiffs raised similar concerns in their appeal, noting North Carolina as an outlier nationwide in holding primaries in the early spring.  “Forty-eight states have 2022 primaries scheduled in May or later,” according to the petition. 

In his response, Phil Strach, a private attorney hired by Republican leadership to defend the cases, balked at the time frame for the decision. The plaintiffs filed at 9 a.m. concerning a noon deadline, he wrote. “That does not even afford this court sufficient time to read their filing, much less any other party time to respond in an informative way.” 

The defendants maintain the trial court judges were correct in their assessment and that the plaintiffs would be unlikely to establish discriminatory intent, a necessary element for a claim of partisan gerrymandering.

The plaintiffs contend that although Republican leaders claimed the process was without partisan influence, “the prohibition on partisan considerations was a farce.” 

“While legislators drew and submitted maps using software on computer terminals in the redistricting committee hearing rooms, Legislative Defendants chose not to prohibit legislators from simply bringing political data — or maps drawn by political consultants using political data — with them into the map-drawing room, even after they were specifically asked to ban this practice,” the petition read. 

In Friday’s order, the trial judges said the NCLCV plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not show their “own districts would shift from Republican-leaning to Democratic-leaning under a different configuration or that they are prevented from electing their candidates of choice.” 

In their petition with the Court of Appeals, the NCLCV plaintiffs said the trial court was incorrect about the residence of the petitioners and that the organization represents voters in all districts who might be harmed by the new maps. 

The Court of Appeals order to delay candidate filing gives the Republican leadership of the N.C. House and Senate, the named defendants in this case, until noon Thursday to file a response.

“A ruling on the petition will be made upon Defendants’ filing of their responses or the expiration of the response period if no response is filed,” according to the order.

The foundation petition asked the Supreme Court to hear the matter in an expedited fashion in lieu of the Court of Appeals, given the urgency and importance of the case, according to their filing. 

They also petitioned the Supreme Court to disqualify one of the justices, Republican Phil Berger Jr. from hearing the case. Berger’s father, Phil Berger, is the president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate and one of the defendants in the case.  

The N.C. State Board of Elections is also named as a defendant in the case, as the body that administers statewide elections in North Carolina. The board has not made any arguments for or against the maps and instead told the court how the elections will be affected if the courts delay the primaries, currently scheduled for March 8. 

In response to the Court of Appeals order, the board will not allow candidates to file for State House, State Senate or U.S. congressional seats.

Should the Court of Appeals decline to postpone the primary elections and reinstitute candidate filing on Thursday, candidates for those offices would still have another week to submit their paperwork, according to the State Board of Elections. 

All other candidates can continue filing as scheduled, according to the notice.



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