Federal judges on Monday rejected a request by North Carolina voters who sued over General Assembly district boundaries to hold special elections next March in new districts once lines are redrawn to eliminate illegal racial gerrymandering.
The unanimous order by the three-judge panel means the next legislative elections won’t occur until November 2018, as regularly scheduled. But the judges did tell Republican lawmakers who control the legislature that they’ll have to approve new House and Senate boundaries by this September — at least two months earlier than GOP leaders sought.
The three judges ordered lawmakers to draw the new maps by Sept. 1 but wrote that they would extend the deadline to Sept. 15 if lawmakers make enough progress on new boundaries in the next few weeks. Such movement would include disclosing remedial plans and creating a method by which the public and other legislators can make comments and present evidence.
The panel ruled in August 2016 that 28 state House and Senate districts were illegally drawn based on racial considerations. After Republicans took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices upheld the lower court decision to throw out those boundaries. Democrats hope the new boundaries could help them erode the GOP’s veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers.
Although the three judges said they would explain their decision against a special election in a forthcoming opinion, lawyers for GOP legislative leaders have said having one would be too complicated for election workers and would overlap with the November 2018 election schedule.
Although the GOP’s lawyers also argued they needed until this November to redraw maps, the judges disagreed.
“Legislative defendants have offered no evidence to support their contention that they need 3? more months to remedy the constitutional violations identified by this court almost a year ago, nor have they offered any evidence that they have not begun to evaluate what the revised districts might look like,” the order said.
In oral arguments last week in Greensboro federal court, two of the judges expressed concerns that North Carolina legislative leaders had taken few steps to draw new election maps.
The panel reaffirmed those worries Monday, writing that it appears “the General Assembly does not appreciate the need to move promptly to cure the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders” in plans first approved in 2011.
Attorneys for the voters had wanted maps drawn…