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Judges weighing new redistricting lawsuit schedule with election looming

A three-judge panel phoned in to the Wake County courthouse Thursday to discuss scheduling in the latest redistricting lawsuit.

“We have a tight deadline,” said Judge Paul Ridgeway. “We want to make sure we’re on a path that bears the least disruption to the public.”

The other two judges presiding over the case, NAACP v. David Lewis, et. al., are Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton. The lawsuit [1] is over Wake County legislative districts that were redrawn as part of the racial gerrymandering case, North Carolina v. Covington. Lawmakers are accused of redrawing districts they didn’t have to during a court-ordered remedial map-making process.

Allison Riggs, of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who is lead attorney for the plaintiffs, argued Thursday on the teleconference that there was still ample time to ensure her clients weren’t subject to another unconstitutional election.

She said if the case couldn’t be resolved before the May 8 primary election, they would be amenable to holding a special primary this summer. She said they believed the case to be clear cut and simple.

Phil Strach, who represents the legislative defendants, pointed out that the candidate filing period ended Wednesday and that for the first time, all 170 districts were being challenged.

“The stage is already set for a very competitive and vibrant election in Wake County and the rest of the state,” he said.

He added that granting a preliminary injunction in the case to sort out the maps would just cause confusion and that there wasn’t enough time. He also indicated that the defendants would need a lot of time for trial to make their arguments, take depositions and create an extensive factual record in the complex case.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters, who represents the state, reminded the three-judge panel that absentee ballot voting would begin in two and a half weeks. He also said that voter turnout at special primaries was typically very low, and that the public’s interest needed to be weighed in this decision.

Riggs responded that there are special primaries “all the time” across the nation and low turnout didn’t mean the weight was against Wake County voters “to finally participate in a constitutional election.”

Ridgeway asked the parties if they thought mediation would accomplish anything given the tight time-frame needed for such a case. Riggs and Strach agreed they did not think it would be fruitful.

Strach added later that the “train has left the station” in terms of resolving the constitutional issues before this year’s elections, but they did not object to resolving them before 2020.

The judges took their information under advisement and did not make any decisions during the teleconference.