Courts & the Law, News

Federal three-judge panel poised to make decision in racial gerrymandering case

The three-judge panel overseeing North Carolina’s latest racial gerrymandering case has now heard from all parties involved and stands ready to make a decision on a timeline for new maps and whether or not there will be a special election.

The court had asked parties in the case to file briefs addressing lingering issues in North Carolina v. Covington. The plaintiffs filed their brief almost right away and the defendants (legislative, the state of North Carolina and the North Carolina Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement) filed their briefs yesterday.

The legislative defendants asked the panel not to order special elections as a remedy to the constitutional violations affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Court should not order special elections, but should instead allow the North Carolina General Assembly to enact new districts in time for their use in the 2018 election cycle. In any event, the Court should not order a special election unless and until elections officials have provided the Court with evidence regarding scheduling and logistical issues posed by a special election and the legislative defendants have had an opportunity to respond to such evidence.”

The court document outlines the legislative defendants’ stance in Covington as it pertains to the redrawing of the unconstitutional maps and the potential remedial special elections.

Legislators also asked the court not to order a reduced period of time for the legislature to enact remedial plans without evidence from elections officials regarding the time needed for a plan to be implemented in time for the 2018 elections.

“Whether or not the Court decides to order a special election, the legislative defendants request an opportunity to be heard, through briefing or otherwise, specifically on the timeline for enacting remedial legislative plans under whatever election schedule the Court intends to adopt.”

The state took no position on special elections, other than to note that such a remedy would disrupt state government, but regardless, it stands ready to act should it need to.

“The State does not dispute the severity of the harms that flow from unconstitutional gerrymandering. Even so, a special election would disrupt the ordinary processes of state government and would intrude to some degree on state sovereignty. But should the Court decide that the nature and severity of the harms found in this case justify such a remedy, the State and the State Board stand ready to implement it.”

The state and the Bipartisan State Board, both represented by the state Attorney General’s Office, also took no position on the schedule for the remedial map drawing that is set to be decided.

Kim Westbrook Strach, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Board, submitted a declaration outlining some factors for the court to consider when deciding whether to hold a remedial special election.

“The State Board may ordinarily act … to adopt temporary rules implementing an order of this Court. However, members of the State Board have not yet been appointed by the Governor, who has challenged legislation creating the new State Board. Staff has not been delegated authority to adopt temporary rules. Therefore, unless and until the Governor makes appointments, the State Board is unable to adjust any portion of the election schedule set by law, such as the length of the absentee voting period or the dates of a primary or general election. Any departure from the statutory election schedule must be made either by the General Assembly or by an order of the Court.”

Gov. Roy Cooper is currently challenging the creation of the Bipartisan Board at the state Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Strach said in her declaration that she would make herself available to the three-judge panel should they “desire logistical estimates regarding specific election scenarios, such as a reduction of either absentee voting or the one-stop early voting period, or the elimination of one or more primary elections.”

It’s unknown when the three-judge panel will issue a decision in Covington, but it could be as early as today. Have more questions and can’t wait that long? Check out this Q&A with more information about the case.

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