Less than a week ago, the Supreme Court granted a request by North Carolina Republicans to block (at least temporarily) an order by a three-judge federal court in that state that would have required the state legislature to submit a new federal congressional map today. The federal court ruled that the state’s Republicans had engaged in partisan gerrymandering when they drew the map to ensure their “domination of the state’s congressional delegation,” but the Supreme Court’s January 18 order freed Republicans of the need to come up with a new plan while they file an appeal.
This afternoon North Carolina Republicans asked the justices to step into the redistricting battles again – this time, in a dispute over the state legislative maps. Describing the situation as “a case of déjà vu all over again,” they urged the court to block a decision by a three-judge federal court invalidating those maps. They argued that, just as the federal congressional maps “were invalidated based on a novel theory of partisan gerrymandering, the state maps have run afoul of an equally novel theory of non-racial racial gerrymandering.” “Even though it is undisputed that” the plan invalidated by the recent ruling “was drawn without any consideration of race,” the legislators continued, “the three-judge court still rejected it for failing to adequately remedy the ‘effects’ of a prior finding of racial gerrymandering” in an earlier plan. That decision, they asserted, is “unprecedented.”
The Republican legislators suggested two possible options for resolving the case, both of which involve putting the lower-court ruling on hold: The justices could either wait until they rule on another racial-gerrymandering challenge – from Texas – that is already slated for oral argument (almost certainly in April), or they could go ahead and hold oral argument in this case in April and issue a decision by late June. At a minimum, they stressed, “the people of North Carolina should not have to prepare for an election under a map drawn without the involvement of the General Assembly just because a Court without jurisdiction inexplicably found racial gerrymandering in a plan drawn without consideration of race.”
The legislators’ request will go to Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles emergency appeals from the geographic region that includes the state. Roberts can either rule on the application himself or refer it to his colleagues, but he will likely first ask the challengers to weigh in first – and will probably do so quite soon.