A three-judge panel refused to stop the use of some legislative districts in Wake County in the upcoming election despite acknowledging that they are probably unconstitutional.
The order denying the preliminary injunction in NAACP v. Lewis was released Friday afternoon. The three judges — Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton — agreed on the decision unanimously.
“Enjoining the use of the challenged districts during the pendency of this litigation would necessarily halt ongoing Wake County House of Representatives races, and more importantly, would interrupt voting by citizens already underway,” the order states.
The plaintiffs (including the NAACP) in the case, represented by Allison Riggs, the senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, are challenging four Wake County legislative districts based on a state constitution prohibition on mid-decade redistricting — lawmakers are accused of redrawing districts they didn’t have to during a court-ordered remedial map-making process.
The redrawing of districts stems from the racial gerrymandering case, North Carolina v. Covington.
Phil Strach, an attorney for the legislative defendants, has argued that the court-ordered redistricting process gave lawmakers the authority to redraw the districts in question, and that there is no court precedent that states otherwise.
The merits of the mid-decade redistricting case have not yet been argued but the three-judge panel said in its order that “in considering the pleadings, arguments and records established thus far, the court concludes, for the purposes of this motion, that the plaintiffs have demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success.”
It was in considering and balancing the equities of enjoining the districts that the judges decided a preliminary injunction was not warranted.
Riggs said the plaintiffs were gratified that the court recognized the legislature likely acted unconstitutionally and indicated that they will keep fighting.
“We will aggressively litigate this case to final resolution to ensure there are fair districts in place by the time voters go to the ballot box in 2020,” she said. “Basic legal principles of equality demand that voters in Wake County have the same right to vote in constitutional districts as every other resident in the state.”
The candidate filing period for legislative elections ended Feb. 28 and absentee voting began March 19. Election Day for the primary is May 8 and the ballots have already been printed, according to the court’s order.
The House districts that are challenged are 36, 37, 40 and 41. Seats in those districts are currently held by Representatives Nelson Dollar, Linda Hunt Williams, Joe John and Gale Adcock.
The plaintiffs challenged the Wake districts immediately following their redraw. The federal court upheld a special master’s rendering of the districts but the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down, likely because the claims involved state law, not federal law. That eventually led to the current NAACP case, filed in state court.
It’s not yet known when the trial on the merits of the case will be set. You can read the full court order below.