News

State Supreme Court denies request for rehearing of redistricting decision

The state Supreme Court has denied the request by challengers of the 2011 voting maps for a rehearing of the Court’s December opinion upholding, for a second time, those maps as constitutional.

The ruling puts the state court challenge back on a U.S. Supreme Court trajectory — with a petition for review likely to be filed there soon.

A separate federal challenge to Congressional Districts 1 and 12 is already before the high court on the state’s request for an emergency stay of a three-judge’s ruling last Friday invalidating Congressional Districts 1 and 12 as unconstitutionally drawn and requiring lawmakers to draw up a new congressional plan by February 19.

A third action is also pending in federal court, challenging state legislative districts, and is set for trial in April.

The court’s order is below.

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News

Supreme Court temporarily blocks implementation of Clean Power Plan

By a 5-4 vote, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have temporarily blocked implementation of the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, pending resolution of a challenge to the President’s plan filed on an expedited basis by 29 states.

The high court will hear argument in the case on June 2.

Here’s more from the New York Times:

The challenged regulation, which was issued last summer by the Environmental Protection Agency, requires states to make major cuts to greenhouse gas pollution created by electric power plants, the nation’s largest source of such emissions. The plan could transform the nation’s electricity system, cutting emissions from existing power plants by a third by 2030, from a 2005 baseline, by closing hundreds of heavily polluting coal-fired plants and increasing production of wind and solar power.

“Climate change is the most significant environmental challenge of our day, and it is already affecting national public health, welfare and the environment,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. wrote in a brief urging the Supreme Court to reject a request for a stay while the case moves forward.

The regulation calls for states to submit plans to comply with the regulation by September, though they may seek a two-year extension. The first deadline for power plants to reduce their emissions is in 2022, with full compliance not required until 2030.

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News

Redistricting challengers respond to state’s request for a stay of order requiring new plans

In papers filed just minutes ago, the parties challenging the 2011 redistricting of Congressional Districts 1 and 12 have asked the judges who ordered a redrawing of the congressional map by February 19 to deny the state’s request for a stay of that order, arguing that voters have already had to cast ballots in two elections from districts that were unconstitutionally drawn and should not be forced to do so again.

Here’s an excerpt:

Plaintiffs—and every voter in North Carolina—have already been subjected to two elections under the unconstitutional enacted plan. The General Assembly’s improper use of race to sort voters by the color of their skin has violated the Fourteenth Amendment rights of millions of North Carolinian citizens. Unchastened, Defendants now ask the Court to delay implementation of a remedy until 2018. Defendants fail to argue—let alone demonstrate—that they are likely to prevail on the merits of their pending appeal. They do not even acknowledge the Court’s finding that Plaintiffs and millions of other North Carolinians have been forced to vote twice in racially gerrymandered districts and will suffer irreparable injury if they are forced to do so again in 2016. Rather, Defendants’ motion is premised entirely on the assertion that it would be easier and less costly for the State to run the 2016 election under an unconstitutional map. Perhaps.

But even if Defendants could establish a likelihood of success on the merits (which they cannot), the harm Plaintiffs and other residents of CDs 1 and 12 will irrefutably suffer if the stay is granted vastly outweighs the administrative inconvenience and additional cost the State will incur if the primary is delayed to facilitate the implementation of a remedial map. This is particularly true here because (as further discussed below) the State is itself responsible for the present “emergency.” Knowing full well that this Court might strike down the enacted plan, Defendant McCrory signed a bill passed by the General Assembly that accelerated the primary election from May to mid-March. He did so less than two weeks before the trial in this matter commenced. It was hardly coincidence.

An order from the court could come at any time.

Read the full response here.

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News

State seeks emergency stay of redistricting ruling

State officials have asked the three-judge panel that late last week tossed Congressional Districts 1 and 12  as racial gerrymanders to stay their order requiring a new congressional redistricting plan by February 19, arguing that disrupting the primary elections already underway will lead to “significant voter confusion and irreparable harm to the citizens of North Carolina.”

They have asked the judges for a ruling today so that they can seek emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary and have also filed a notice of appeal of last week’s decision to the high court.

In an affidavit filed in support of the request, Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach noted that 46 congressional candidates are competing in the 2016 elections, including two in District 1 and five in District 12.

County election officials began issuing mail-in absentee ballots on January 25. According to state data those officials mailed 8,621 ballots to voters, 903 of whom are located outside the United States, and hundreds of those ballots have been voted and returned.

According to Strach, should the General Assembly redraw districts by the Feb. 19 deadline, election officials would need to late May to make necessary adjustments for the primary elections — well beyond the March 15 scheduled date.

Bifurcating the primary elections with congressional races held sometime in late May would add to early voting costs as well, Strach added.

In its final judgment on Friday, the judges also forbade state officials from conducting any elections for the U.S. Representative until a new plan is in place.

Since then though election officials have been encouraging absentee voters to keep voting and to cast the full ballot, including in House of Representative races — contending that the court’s order with respect to “conducting elections” was unclear.

“There are a lot of contingencies that we don’t want voters to have to filter through – in a district for example  that wouldn’t be affected by a redistricting effort,”  Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson said.

“Our message was ‘vote it if it’s on your ballot,’ but the legal significance of that, whether or not we certify that, is still something that’s controlled by the courts,” he added.

“We’re trying to make sure that not everyone thinks that this jeopardizes participation, because it may not.”

Read the state’s papers here.

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News

Federal three-judge panel throws out Congressional Districts 1 and 12 as racial gerrymanders

A federal three-judge panel threw out North Carolina’s Congressional Districts 1 and 12 as racial gerrymanders today and gave the General Assembly until February 19 to redraw new maps.

Writing for the court in a decision handed down late this afternoon, Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory said:

After careful consideration of all evidence presented during a three-day bench trial, the parties’ findings of fact and conclusions of law, the parties’ arguments, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the plaintiffs have shown that race predominated in both CD 1 and CD 12 and that the defendants have failed to establish that its race-based redistricting satisfies strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the Court holds that the general assembly’s 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan is unconstitutional as violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Having found that the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause, the Court will require that new congressional districts be drawn forthwith to remedy the unconstitutional districts.

U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. agreed with Gregory, while Judge William L. Osteen, Jr. dissented in part.

The court’s decision conflicts with decisions by the state Supreme Court in Dickson v. Rucho, which has twice upheld the 2011 legislative and congressional maps — most recently after a remand for further review by the U.S. Supreme Court.  (For more on how the redistricting battles are playing out here and elsewhere, read here.)

And its order requiring a do-over by Feb. 19 disrupts the current election calendar heading into the March 15 primary elections.

Read the decision here.