A panel of federal judges denied a plea Tuesday from leading Republican legislators seeking to delay a recent order requiring the General Assembly to redraw North Carolina’s congressional districts by Jan. 24.
The requirement stems from the panel’s finding last week that congressional districts the GOP-led legislature drew in 2016 stemmed from unconstitutional, partisan gerrymandering that went too far in tipping the scales toward Republican candidates.
The legislative defendants wanted the panel to put the Jan. 24 deadline on hold while they pursue an appeal.
But the three-judge panel said in its latest order that lawyers for GOP leaders had not made a convincing case they would win the appeal of last week’s ruling in the lawsuit filed by Common Cause North Carolina, the state League of Women’s Voters, the state Democratic Party and others.
“The public interest strongly weighs against staying this court’s order,” the judges wrote. “This court found that the 2016 Plan violates ‘both the structure of the republican form of government embodied in the Constitution and fundamental individual rights preserved by the Bill of Rights' and the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The lawsuit is one of several pending in the Greensboro-based U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina that deal with various aspects of redistricting. Another prominent redistricting case pending locally addresses the alleged racial gerrymandering of state House and Senate districts.
Current and former legislators named in the congressional redistricting lawsuit include state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), state House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), state Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn) and former Republican senator Robert Rucho of Mattews.
They have appealed last week’s order in the congressional redistricting lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn that decision and allow the state’s current, 13 congressional districts to remain intact.
As part of that appeal, they also have asked the Supreme Court separately to stay the three-judge panel’s order to redraw those congressional districts until the appeal has been decided.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the separate motion to stay the Jan. 24 deadline. The high court has directed Common Cause, the plaintiffs and state government to file a response to the legislators' stay request by noon on Wednesday.
The three judges who make up the local panel in the congressional redistricting lawsuit include U.S. District judges Earl Britt, of Raleigh, William Osteen, of Greensboro, and Judge James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The panel members said that they also declined to issue a stay because the GOP defendants did not meet a basic test for such a stay, that they likely would win their case on appeal.
“Legislative defendants fail to make a ‘strong showing’ that they are likely to succeed on the merits,” the judges said of the pending appeal.
The judges noted that the legislature’s original 2011 congressional map also was found unconstitutional after it had been in use for two election cycles, meaning that North Carolina voters have not cast ballots in a properly designed electoral format this decade.
“That plaintiffs and other North Carolina voters cast their ballots under an unconstitutional congressional plan in 2012, 2014 and 2016 only enhances the potential prejudice to the plaintiffs associated with staying these proceedings,” Wynn, Osteen and Britt said in their unanimous order.