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Decision sidesteps chaos that might have resulted from a new last-minute map
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RALEIGH (CFP) — Less than a week after threatening to throw North Carolina’s congressional election into chaos by redrawing its electoral map, a panel of three federal judges has reversed course and decided not to move forward with a redraw before November.
In a September 4 order, the judges decided that there was not enough time to draw a new map and that altering the current election schedule “unduly disturbs the state’s electoral machinery and would probably confuse voters and reduce voter turnout.”
The order puts on hold a August 27 decision striking down the map drawn by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature as an unconstitutional gerrymander designed to disadvantage Democrats. However, if that decision is upheld, a new map will have to be redrawn before the 2020 elections.
That decision ordering the lines to be redrawn came just 70 days before the November election and three months after primaries were held using the current lines.
Republican legislative leaders had vowed to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had issued a stay earlier this year to stop a similar decision by the same panel of judges.
In the majority opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that by favoring Republicans, “the redistricting plan passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature amounted to “invidious partisanship” that that “runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in ‘the People.'”
Although North Carolina is fairly evenly divided in statewide and presidential elections, Republicans hold a 10-to-3 advantage in the House delegation. Two of those Democrats are African Americans who represent majority-minority districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
In January, the same three-judge panel ruled against the state’s map, the first time a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered to favor one party.
But in June, the Supreme Court vacated the order and returned the case to the judges in Greensboro to reconsider their ruling in light of its own ruling in a different case.
In their second decision, the judges said their reconsideration of the case did not change their view that the map was unconstitutional.
Since the first ruling was vacated by the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired and his replacement hasn’t been confirmed, leaving the court with a 4-to-4 split between conservative and liberal factions.
If the issue of staying the new map had gone to the Supreme Court, North Carolina legislators would have needed to persuade five justices to stay the ruling, or the lower court decision would have stood.
Wynn, who previously served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama and was joined in his majority opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Britt, a senior-status judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
The third judge on the panel, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr., was appointed by President George W. Bush; he dissented from part of the majority’s reasoning in ruling, although he concurred with the remedy of redrawing congressional lines.