As 2017 drew to a close, an often repeated phrase among observers of North Carolina politics was the only thing certain about the 2018 elections was uncertainty. With the filing period for candidates seeking state House and Senate seats set to open in mid-February, the lines for the election districts remain unclear. North Carolina lawmakers have canceled primaries for all judicial races and continue to weigh new options for how judges at all levels of state court get to the bench. Answers to some of the lingering questions might emerge early in January as federal judges hold hearings on a case that will determine the shape of election district maps for state legislative races.
A three-judge panel has scheduled a hearing in federal court on Jan. 5 to get feedback on the district maps drawn by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University law professor hired by the court to review maps adopted by the Republican-led General Assembly in late August.
Persily’s assignment came almost 15 months after the three federal judges – James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder, both of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina – ruled that 28 of North Carolina’s 170 districts used to elect legislators from 2011 to 2016 were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders that weakened the statewide influence of black voters.