The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republican lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional districts by next week because of excessive partisan bias in current lines.
The justices announced their decision late Thursday after legal briefs were filed for and against the GOP legislators' request for a delay. Their lawyers successfully argued that a three-judge panel's ruling last week declaring the state congressional map an illegal partisan gerrymander should be put on hold while similar cases from Wisconsin and Maryland before the Supreme Court are settled.
Voter advocacy groups and Democratic voters who sued over the map — heavily weighted toward Republicans — argued no delay was necessary because it would be struck down however the justices rule in the other cases.
The stay of the lower court’s order is not a ruling on the merits of the case; it just puts everything on hold until the court considers an appeal.
Or, more likely, until the court rules on gerrymandering cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland, says attorney Ruth Greenwood of the Campaign Legal Center, which represents the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.
“I think the decision in those cases will give a pretty clear indication of what the court can do in the North Carolina case.”
The Supreme has already heard arguments in the Wisconsin case; the Maryland case goes before the court in March. Greenwood says she expected the court to issue a stay, but that "the court is littered in history with cases where they impose stays and the plaintiffs went on to win, so I don’t think is says anything negative about our chances of winning."
Nort Carolina Republican Chairman Robin Hayes said in a prepared statement that he’s grateful the court “halted the partisan political efforts” of the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin, meanwhile, called the stay an “extremely disappointing ” decision that "rewards an unconstitutionally-elected Republican caucus and condemns voters to yet another election under unconstitutional districts."
Greenwood, however, holds out hope the districts can still be redrawn in 2018 depending on how the court rules in the Maryland and Wisconsin cases.
The Supreme Court’s order says Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotamayor would not have granted the stay.