As the political battles heated up over who should replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers familiar with North Carolina’s redistricting case and other high-profile lawsuits took time on Sunday to weigh what impact the conservative jurist’s death might have on their cases. The North Carolina redistricting case, which invalidated the state’s 1st and 12th congressional districts, is one that could see a different outcome now, legal analysts speculate. Some analysts say Scalia’s death makes it much more likely that North Carolina’s March 15 primary elections will be delayed – at least in the congressional races. Until a new justice is appointed – and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a delay for anyone President Barack Obama nominates – there could be a succession of 4-to-4 vote standoffs among the remaining justices. In such cases where there is a tie, the lower court ruling stands as if the high court had never heard the case.
But as has been proven often during the two weeks since the federal court ruling describing North Carolina’s 1st and 12th districts as racial gerrymanders, there are few simple answers with a redistricting case. “The primaries could be delayed, especially if the court does not grant a stay,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine who writes about the laws of politics and politics of the law. “If the court does grant a stay, then the primaries won’t be delayed.”
The state filed a request last week, asking the country’s highest court to halt the impact of the three-judge panel’s ruling until a fuller appeal could be heard. The state’s attorneys argued that because absentee ballots had already been cast in the districts under scrutiny, changing the lines this late in the electoral process would confuse voters and create unfair results.
The challengers, who have a response due to Chief Justice John Roberts by 3 p.m. Tuesday, have argued that illegal elections in the gerrymandered districts have occurred twice already since the maps were drawn in 2011. They argued against further delay, and plan to submit further argument to that point on Tuesday. Roberts, who handles stay requests from the circuit that North Carolina is in, typically shares such matters with his colleagues, but he could rule on his own.