A federal three-judge panel tasked with reconsidering the state’s legislative redistricting case by the U.S. Supreme Court said Friday it is seeking to move quickly on the case, which could result in the state having to hold legislative elections this year to make up for the 28 legislative districts that were found unconstitutional.
The panel originally ruled the 28 districts unconstitutional and required that the districts be redrawn and new elections be held in the fall of 2017, but the Supreme Court vacated that decision and directed the court to review its finding in light of the outcome of a related case, North Carolina v. Covington.
The Supreme Court vacated the lower court order that the state holds new elections in 2017, directing the court to undertake a process to equitably weigh the pros and cons of ordering the new elections in light of what is necessary, fair and workable.
The order said that the lower court only gave a cursory examination to these factors and, while it is not commenting on the merit of the original order to hold new elections, the justices are telling the lower court to give deeper consideration to the question of whether a special election is necessary in all or any of the 28 districts that were found to be unconstitutional.
In its order the Supreme Court said, “We cannot have confidence that the court adequately grappled with the interests on both sides of the remedial question before us. And because the District Court’s discretion ‘was barely exercised here,’ its order provides no meaningful basis for even deferential review… For these reasons, we vacate the District Court’s remedial order and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The court originally directed the state to redraw the districts back in August, seemingly building in the decision to throw out some of the state’s Congressional voting districts along the same lines, saying that some districts were packed with African American voters for political advantage.
The legislature was to complete the new maps by March 2017, but failed to do so while the court case governing the fate of the legislative maps was uncertain, as it still is.
The case was originally brought in 2011 after Republicans first exercised their power over the redistricting progress following the 2010 census.
Gov. Roy Cooper, last week, threw in a complicating factor to the whole issue, calling for a special session in redistricting, despite the legislature already being in special session, and having been ordered to redraw the maps during its regular 2017 Long Session.
Cooper’s special session was to last two weeks, or less if the new maps were completed before the 14-day mark.
But leaders in the House and Senate both quickly bucked Cooper’s call for a special session, calling his order unconstitutional.
On Thursday, Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Elections, issued a statement following the Senate decision to reject Cooper’s call for a special session.
“Despite all his talk about separation of powers, it’s clear Roy Cooper wants to be North Carolina’s governor, legislature, and, with this latest stunt, its judiciary too. The courts have yet to give the legislature direction on this matter, and we will be prepared to undertake a thorough redistricting process with ample notice and opportunities for public input when they do. In the meantime, we refuse to be manipulated by the governor into having an unconstitutional special session and will keep our focus on passing a balanced state budget that raises teacher pay, provides relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew, and puts money back into the pockets of middle-class families.”
According to the release, Cooper’s order violated Article III, Sec. 5, of the North Carolina Constitution, which outlines the policies by which the governor can call a special session.
Under the constitution, the governor can call an extra session “on extraordinary occasions, by and with the advice of the Council of State,” but Senate leadership said that Cooper had no extraordinary occasion, especially with the legislature already in session, and that Cooper did not meaningfully comply with the requirement to seek advice on the call from the Council of State, the majority of which are Republicans.
Information released from Attorney General Josh Stein’s Office, after a public records request, show that Cooper Chief of Staff Kristi Jones sent out an email requesting the advice of the Council of State about two hours before issuing the proclamation, according to the News & Observer.
Of the three responses to the request for “a brief response acknowledging receipt of [the] email,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said they believed a special session was premature or unwarranted. Stein merely responded saying, “I acknowledge receipt.”
Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) released a statement after a vote to rule Cooper’s call for a special session unconstitutional.
“Governor Cooper has no constitutional role in redistricting and his latest political stunt is an effort to deter House lawmakers from our work on a bipartisan budget that received support from both parties,” he said. “The North Carolina House of Representatives fully intends to comply with a federal court’s order to redraw our legislative maps, however, we do not yet have guidance from the court on how to do so, nor have we been given time to undertake a comprehensive redistricting process with sufficient notice and opportunities for public input. Further, the federal court did provide direction for the legislature to undertake redistricting in a regular session, not a special session. The House intends to do so after receiving guidance from the court, and in the meantime we remain committed to cutting taxes, raising teacher pay and protecting North Carolina’s citizens with disaster relief funding and historic commitments to our state’s savings reserves.”