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U.S. Supreme Court stays ruling striking down North Carolina U.S. House map

Decision means 2018 primaries can proceed in existing districts

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) – The U.S. Supreme Court has indefinitely stayed a ruling by a panel of three federal judges that invalidated North Carolina’s U.S. House map for unconstitutionally diluting the voting strength of Democrats.

The January 18 decision by the high court means state legislators will not have to redraw the map for the 2018 midterm election, a prospect that threatened to throw the election process into chaos.

The Supreme Court’s unsigned order stays the ruling “pending the timely filing and disposition of an appeal by this court.”

While the order did not indicate how many of the justices were in favor of granting a stay, it did note that two members of the court’s liberal bloc, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, wanted to deny the application for a stay filed by Republican lawmakers.

Common Cause North Carolina and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina sued to invalidate the House map passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2016, arguing that the Republican majority improperly used political considerations in drawing the map.

No federal court had ever a stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered for political, rather than racial, reasons. But the majority opinion from three-judge panel who heard the case said partisan gerrymandering – a common political practice in many U.S. states – violates a “core principle of republican government” that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The January 9 ruling gave state lawmakers just 20 days to draw a new map, an order that is now on hold until the Supreme Court considers the appeal. Qualifying for the May 8 primary is scheduled to begin Feb. 28.

The high court is already considering similar cases involving state legislative districts in Wisconsin and Maryland that could set a precedent for the North Carolina case.

Should the ruling in North Carolina be upheld on appeal, it could have significant effects in other Southern states where Republican state legislative majorities have gerrymandered maps to their advantage, particularly Florida, Virginia and Texas.

Democrats cheered the ruling, which could help them make a dent in the GOP’s 10-to-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. But Republicans accused the judges of “waging a personal, partisan war” against the state GOP.

Ironically, what may have sunk the North Carolina map was the explicit admission by GOP lawmakers back in 2016 that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats – an admission made to overcome objections to a previous map struck down for improperly using racial considerations.

After the map was redrawn in 2016, several incumbent lawmakers were forced to run in new territory and one, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn’t survive after she was forced to run against another incumbent in a Republican primary. However, the new map did not change the overall party composition in the state’s House delegation.

The 2016 map has allowed Republicans to hold on 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats, even though election results have been closely divided between the parties in recent statewide and presidential elections.

Donald Trump carried North Carolina by just 4 points in 2016, as Democrat Roy Cooper squeaked into the governorship by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The redistricting case was heard by James Wynn, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; W. Earl Britt, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Raleigh; and William Osteen Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro.

Wynn and Britt were appointed by Democratic presidents; Osteen, who dissented from part of the ruling while concurring in striking down the map, is a Republican appointee.

Federal judges strike down North Carolina’s U.S. House map over gerrymandering

Ruling could have an impact on other Southern states with partisan maps

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) – In an unprecedented decision, a panel of three federal judges has struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map, ruling that Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats by gerrymandering the map for political reasons.

The panel’s majority opinion said partisan gerrymandering – a common political practice in many U.S. states – violates a “core principle of republican government” that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The January 9 ruling gives state lawmakers just 20 days to redraw the map; if they don’t, a new map will be redrawn by a special master appointed by the court. However, GOP legislative leaders are vowing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could leave the current map in place until the appeal can be heard.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a stay, significant chaos will be injected into the Tar Heel State’s 2018 election, with qualifying for candidates supposed to begin Feb. 28 for a May 8 primary.

The ruling marked the first time that a federal court has stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered for political, rather than racial, reasons. However, U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering similar cases involving state legislative districts in Wisconsin and Maryland that could set a precedent.

The judicial panel in the North Carolina case found unanimously that the map violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and ruled 2-1 that it also violated the free speech rights of Democrats.

Should the ruling in North Carolina be upheld on appeal, it could have significant effects in other Southern states where Republican state legislative majorities have gerrymandered maps to their advantage, particularly Florida, Virginia and Texas.

Democrats cheered the ruling, which could help them make a dent in the GOP’s 10-to-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. But Republicans accused the judges of “waging a personal, partisan war” against the state GOP.

Ironically, what may have sunk the North Carolina map was the explicit admission by GOP lawmakers back in 2016 that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats – an admission made to overcome objections to a previous map struck down for improperly using racial considerations.

After the map was redrawn in 2016, several incumbent lawmakers were forced to run in new territory and one, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn’t survive after she was forced to run against another incumbent in a Republican primary. However, the new map did not change the overall party composition in the state’s House delegation.

The 2016 map has allowed Republicans to hold on 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats, even though election results have been closely divided between the parties in recent statewide and presidential elections.

Donald Trump carried North Carolina by just 4 points in 2016, as Democrat Roy Cooper squeaked into the governorship by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The redistricting case was heard by James Wynn, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; W. Earl Britt, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Raleigh; and William Osteen Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro.

Wynn and Britt were appointed by Democratic presidents; Osteen, who dissented from part of the ruling while concurring in striking down the map, is a Republican appointee.

North Carolina voters bounce Renee Ellmers from Congress

Ellmers ends campaign with disparaging comment about a female GOP official’s weight

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — Running in a redrawn district and facing a tsunami of outside spending aimed squarely at her, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina has lost her bid for a fourth term, becoming the first GOP lawmaker to fall in a primary in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

Ellmers lost the June 7 GOP primary to U.S. Rep. George Holding, who opted to run against Ellmers after a court-ordered redraw of the Tar Heel State’s U.S. House map moved his district to another part of the state.

Her campaign ended on a bizarre note when a television camera captured Ellmers making a disparaging remark about Maggie Sandrock, a former chair of the Harnett County Republican Party, as she made her way into a polling place to vote.

“You’re eating a little too much pork barbecue. Woo,” Ellmers said in an exchange captured by Raleigh TV station WNCN.

Reacting to the comment, Sandrock, a former Ellmers supporter who now backs one of her opponents, said the congresswoman had “become a mean girl on steroids.”

Holding took 53 percent of the vote in the the 2nd District primary. Ellmers managed just 24 percent, edging past Greg Brannon, who jumped into the race after losing a U.S. Senate primary back in March.

The House primary was delayed three months after a federal court panel ordered state lawmakers to redraw the map passed after the 2010 Census. The judges ruled that two districts were improperly gerrymandered using racial considerations.

Ellmers’s district in suburban Raleigh was substantially redrawn in the new map, forcing her to run in unfamiliar territory. Her task became more difficult after Holding decided to give up his 13th District seat, which had been moved west to the Greensboro area, and run against Ellmers instead.

Ellmers, 52, a nurse, was first elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave as a critic of Obamacare, with the support of outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

But those groups turned on Ellmers with a vengeance this year, spending more than $1 million to paint her as a Washington insider who supported wasteful spending.

In her concession speech, Ellmers said she was “disappointed” that the outside spending derailed her re-election bid, despite a high-profile endorsement from Donald Trump.

“The special interest groups with their deep pocks in Washington, unfortunately, have won today,” she said. “I hold my head up high. I’ve done what is necessary to serve the people of the (district).”

Ellmers also ran afoul of anti-abortion groups when she forced Republican leaders to carve out a rape exception in a bill outlawing abortions after 20 weeks.

In October 2015, Ellmers publicly denied rumors that she was having an extramarital affair with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, which came to light after McCarthy abruptly abandoned a run for House speaker.

Holding will now face Democrat John McNeil, a Raleigh lawyer, in November, in a district with a strong Republican tilt.

American Idol Clay Aiken denigrates political rival U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in radio interview

Aiken, defeated by Ellmers in November, calls her a “bitch,” an “idiot,” and an “old snatch” on Howard Stern’s show

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — American Idol Clay Aiken has publicly denigrated Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, who beat him handily for a North Carolina House seat last November.

U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

In an April 27 interview with shockjock Howard Stern, Aiken called Ellmers a “bitch” and an “idiot. He also claimed that Ellmers had been “a condescending old snatch” during their campaign debate and that “her self-esteem is just in the floor, under the floor.”

Aiken was on Stern’s show to promote a documentary entitled The Runner-Up, airing on the Esquire Network, which chronicled his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Ellmers.

In response, Ellmer’s office released a statement saying Aiken’s “crude language and disrespectful demeanor towards the congresswoman has proven to the American people why he is a runner-up.”

Aiken, 36, shot to fame in 2003 when he came in second place on American Idol. Last year, he made his first bid for political office in the Tar Heel State’s 2nd District, located in and around Raleigh, trying to become the first openly gay person elected to Congress from the South.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

Ellmers beat him handily, 59 percent to 41 percent, in the GOP-leaning district.

Aiken’s campaign took a bizarre turn last May when the man he narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary, Keith Crisco, died from a fall less than a week after the vote.

Listen to Aiken’s comments on Ellmers, which begin about 1 hour 40 minutes into Stern’s show:

American Idol Clay Aiken loses U.S. House bid in North Carolina

Aiken, who came in second in the popular reality show, was defeated in a Raleigh-area district

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

north-carolina mug

Democratic U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

Democratic U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

RALEIGH  (CFP) — American Idol finalist Clay Aiken has been defeated in his first bid for public office, a U.S. House race in his native North Carolina.

Aiken, 35, running as a Democrat in the state’s 2nd District, located in and around Raleigh, was defeated by incumbent two-term GOP U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent in the November 4 vote.

“The result did not go the way we wanted it tonight, but we’ve walked down this path once or twice before,” Aiken told election night supports at a restaurant in Sanford, alluding to his controversial second-place finish on Idol.

The Esquire Network announced November 5 that Aiken’s campaign would be the subject of a TV reality series set to air in 2015. In a statement, the network said it had been filming Aiken’s campaign since February, and the series would “capture the internal workings of an American campaign — the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Aiken was seeking to become the first openly gay member of Congress from the South.

His campaign took a bizarre turn in May when the man he narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary, Keith Crisco, died from a fall less than a week after the vote.

Clay Aiken’s opponent in North Carolina U.S. House primary dies in fall

Keith Crisco dies as absentee ballots were still being counted in razor-close contest with Aiken

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken’s opponent in the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s 2nd District U.S. House seat, Keith Crisco, died May 12 after a fall at his home in Asheboro, his family confirmed in a statement.

U.S. House candidate Keith Crisco

U.S. House candidate Keith Crisco

Crisco’s death came as provisional and absentee ballots were still being counted from the May 6 primary, with Aiken leading by just 369 votes. Crisco, 71, a businessman and former state commerce secretary, had not conceded the race.

Aiken, saying he was “stunned and deeply saddened” by Crisco’s death, announced that he was suspending all campaign activities.

“He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him,” Aiken said in a statement.

Crisco’s death will mean that Aiken will be his party’s nominee for the seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, who beat back a Tea Party primary challenge from Frank Roche, a Raleigh radio talk show host.

Ellmers also released a statement of condolence, saying Crisco’s “kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward, and he will be dearly missed.”

The 2nd District includes parts of Raleigh and suburban areas to the west, southeast and northeast..

Democratic U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

Democratic U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

Aiken, 35, a Raleigh native, was a special education teacher when he rocketed to fame in 2003 by coming in second on the Fox network’s popular singing competition. He is making his first bid for political office. If elected in November, he will be the first openly gay congressman from North Carolina.

American Idol Clay Aiken holds tiny lead in North Carolina U.S. House primary

If his lead holds, Aiken will face Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers for 5th District seat in November

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

north-carolina mugRALEIGH (CFP) — American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken is holding a razor-thin lead in the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s 2nd District U.S. House seat, just enough to avoid a runoff.

Democratic U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

Democratic U.S. House candidate Clay Aiken

With provisional and absentee ballots still to be counted, Aiken had 11,634 votes, compared to 11,265 votes for Keith Crisco, the former state commerce secretary, and 5,593 votes for Toni Morris, a professional counselor who sought the 2nd District seat in 2012, according to tallies from the State Board of Elections.

In order to avoid a primary runoff in North Carolina, a candidate has to win more than 40 percent of the vote. The current vote totals show Aiken clearing that hurdle by just 237 votes.

State law also calls for an automatic recount if the margin of victory turns out to be 1 percent or less. It currently stands at 1.3 percent.

Despite the narrow margin, Aiken told supporters at a victory rally in Raleigh that “we are feeling incredibly comfortable tonight.”

“People are ready to see a change in Washington, and we’re going to bring it to them,” he said.

Aiken, 35, a Raleigh native, was a special education teacher when he rocketed to fame in 2003 by coming in second on the Fox network’s popular singing competition. He is making his first bid for political office. If elected in November, he will be the first openly gay congressman from North Carolina.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers

If his lead holds, Aiken will face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in November. Ellmers beat back a Tea Party primary challenge from Frank Roche, a Raleigh radio talk show host, with 58 percent of the vote.

Roche had criticized Ellmers for her support of an immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Ellmers is one of the few House Republicans who supports the measure, and Roche’s challenge was seen as a test of how strongly that issue resonates within the GOP electorate.

The 2nd District includes parts of Raleigh and suburban areas to the west, southeast and northeast.

Click here to watch video of Clay Aiken’s victory speech.

 

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