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U.S. Supreme Court filing: Clock is ticking for redistricting remedy of racial gerrymanders

North Carolina voters have been subjected to three election cycles under the unconstitutionally enacted state legislative districting plan, and appellees affected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this week are now asking for a swift resolution.

An application for the highest court to issue mandates formalizing its decision was filed yesterday in North Carolina v. Covington. According to the document, the lower court that is supposed to reconsider remedial special elections doesn’t have jurisdiction to start those proceedings without formal mandates.

The Supreme Court affirmed a federal District Court finding that 28 state House and Senate districts in North Carolina were racially gerrymandered. It vacated the court’s remedy that would have forced the state to hold special elections this year.

In vacating that remedy, it ordered further proceedings with instruction on what the lower court should consider.

Attorneys for the state and Republicans have made an argument that there isn’t enough time left for the court to order special elections this year.

Attorneys for appellees, Sandra Little Covington, et al., and Democrats have argued that the state only needs to weeks to redraw legislative maps and that those who were voting with the unconstitutional maps need not be disadvantaged any longer. They have said the state is trying to run out the clock to win by default.

“Granting Appellees’ request to specially issue formal mandates forthwith will permit remedial proceedings to begin quickly in this time-sensitive election law matter, in which the North Carolina General Assembly must remedy 28 legislative districts that this Court has affirmed are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” the document filed yesterday states.

North Carolina General Assembly statute 120-2.4 specifically states that if the legislature does not act to remedy defects in its redistricting plan within two weeks, the court may impose an interim districting plan for use in the next general election.

The opinion that accompanied the order summarily affirmed by the Supreme Court required “the North Carolina General Assembly to draw remedial districts in their next legislative session to correct the constitutional deficiencies in the Enacted Plans.”

The General Assembly is currently in session, but, the document states, its leaders have publicly expressed plans to adjourn for the year in less than a month. The next regular session is not scheduled to begin until May 2018, after the candidate filing period for the 2018 elections has closed and potentially after a primary election has been conducted for the 2018 election cycle.

That same order that was affirmed by the Supreme Court enjoined the state “from conducting any elections using the unconstitutional districts after November 2016.”

“Swift resolution of the remedial phase of this case is desirable not only because of the short time remaining in the current legislative session, but also because of the importance of quickly mitigating the ongoing harm North Carolina voters have suffered as a result of the election districts challenged in this case,” the Supreme Court filing states.

The filing cites an excerpt from a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Reynolds v. Sims: “[O]nce a State’s … apportionment scheme has been found to be unconstitutional, it would be the unusual case in which a court would be justified in not taking appropriate action to insure that no further elections are conducted under the invalid plan.”

“It is in the interests of justice for this Court to issue the mandates forthwith and allow a remedial map to be put in place expeditiously,” the document adds.

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