The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday put a court-ordered legislative redistricting and 2017 special election on hold while it reviews Republican legislators’ appeal in an ongoing lawsuit. A lower federal court ruled months ago that the current legislative districts are an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and it ordered the General Assembly to draw new districts by March 15 and hold a rare off-year election in altered districts this November. Tuesday’s Supreme Court order puts that order on hold until a Jan. 19 conference among the justices at which they will consider an appeal seeking to keep the current districts in place. From that conference behind closed doors, it could become clearer whether there will be elections held in 2017. The justices could immediately dismiss the appeal and keep the order for new maps and new elections this year. Or they could ask attorneys involved in the case to give them more briefs in the case and set arguments for later in the year, leaving the question of an election this year ambiguous. Since the court is currently missing a ninth justice following Antonin Scalia’s death, a 4-4 decision would keep the lower court’s ruling in place.
State Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican who leads redistricting efforts in the House, praised the court’s action in a tweet Tuesday afternoon. “#FairAndLegal No 2017 elections for #ncga. #SCOTUS halts flawed, partisan, lower court ruling,” he wrote.
Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore issued a statement saying they “are grateful the U.S. Supreme Court has quashed judicial activism and rejected an attempt to nullify the votes of North Carolinians in the 2016 legislative elections”
But the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing opponents of the current districts in the lawsuit, issued a statement downplaying the impact of Tuesday’s order. “Today’s action just puts everything on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the appeal of whether the district court was correct to order special elections in 2017,” executive director Anita Earls said. “On behalf of our clients, we continue to trust that the district court’s ruling will be upheld and new districts ultimately will be drawn that are not based on race.”