A long legal saga over North Carolina’s state legislative maps drew near an end Friday as a panel of federal judges heard closing arguments over which version of those maps to use during this year’s statehouse elections. The panel’s decision should come soon. Filing in state legislative races begins Feb. 12, and without finished maps, a number of incumbents and potential challengers, including some in Wake County, won’t know in which districts they’re running. There’s also the prospect of another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could come quickly following the lower court’s decision.
As they have in the past, the panel’s two Obama-era appointees peppered attorneys for the legislature’s Republican majority with questions during Friday’s hearing. During much of this process, judges have seemed unconvinced of the majority’s sincerity for fixing what the full panel dubbed, in 2016, an unconstitutional racial gerrymander of 29 districts.
That decision was later backed by the Supreme Court, and the General Assembly was ordered last year to redraw those districts. The three-judge panel was unsatisfied by that redraw, done by the same GOP-aligned expert who drew the initial maps, so the court brought in its own expert to take a crack.