The U.S. Supreme Court’s order remanding the N.C. Supreme Court’s flawed decision on voting district maps officially arrived in Raleigh on Tuesday. With that, the clock gets ticking for the state Supreme Court to make up for its disturbing delay in deciding the case. It should accelerate the process the second time around. Redistricting cases have a special urgency, and this one has been handled with intolerable foot-dragging. The state’s previous redistricting case in 2002 was resolved within five months. In the current case, a consolidation of Dickson v. Rucho and the NAACP v. The State of North Carolina, the lawsuits filed in November 2011 have waited more than three years and five months without resolution. Typical of the pace was the state Supreme Court’s taking 11 months after hearing oral arguments before issuing its 4-2 ruling in December upholding the maps.
Eddie Speas, a Raleigh attorney for the plaintiffs who served with the state’s Office of Attorney General from 1971 to 2003, said of the court’s slow movement, “Viewed in isolation, I don’t think the time is especially remarkable, but these are special cases that have historically been handled very promptly.”
Extended deliberation hardly enhanced the state Supreme Court’s judgment. The nation’s high court vacated the state ruling and sent it back, saying the court did not properly assess how the Republican-led General Assembly used race when it redrew district lines. Plaintiffs argue that Republicans packed districts with black voters to weaken their influence in other districts. The Republican map-drawers, led by state Sen. Bob Rucho and state Rep. David Lewis, say they were following the dictates of the Voting Rights Act.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Alabama Black Caucus v. Alabama that mechanically drawing districts by racial formulas was not required by the Voting Rights Act. Rather, it said, the mapmakers should flexibly consider “the extent to which they must preserve existing minority percentages in order to maintain the minority’s present ability to elect the candidate of its choice.”