Legal experts and advocates are planning to keep an eye on litigation likely to make an impact in 2017.
Below are just some of the lawsuits they expect will be heard or decided in the next year and anticipated litigation that could arise in response to actions taken in 2016.
There are several ongoing cases in North Carolina that involve partisan and racial gerrymandering claims. Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Bob Phillips, executive director at Common Cause North Carolina, agree those cases will big ones to watch in 2017.
“Our voting district lines are not settled, and there is a big question that has to be decided — the extent to which partisan gerrymandering, or gerrymandering based on political party, raises a constitutional question that courts may decide,” said Gerhardt.
Ongoing cases include:
McCrory v. Harris: This case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 5. It deals specifically with Districts 1 and 12 after a three-judge panel ruled in February that the North Carolina Congressional District map was drawn with racial bias.
Common Cause v. Rucho: Common Cause filed a federal lawsuit in August claiming North Carolina’s remedial congressional map, adopted this year by the legislature after an earlier map was struck down by the courts, is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
League of Women Voters v. Rucho: This lawsuit was filed in September and also challenges the state’s remedial congressional map, claiming it is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
North Carolina v. Covington: This case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be one to watch since in a related case, a federal three-judge panel ordered the General Assembly to redraw 28 racially gerrymandered state House and Senate districts by March 15, and to hold a special primary and general election in the fall of 2017.
Phillips said he is hopeful Common Cause v. Rucho will be heard in the spring so that it can have an impact on the 2017 special election.
“These are very important elections,” he said. “The legislature in particular arguably has more power on our lives than any other branch of government.”
Phillips added that the gerrymandering cases were important for North Carolinians to keep an eye on because it can help educate them about redistricting and the need for a new process.
House Bill 2
The General Assembly had a chance last week to repeal the state’s controversial anti-LGBTQ law in a special session but stopped short after Republicans tried to add a moratorium on cities passing anti-discrimination ordinances.
In light of that, one big case to keep a close eye on is Carcaño v. McCrory, the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit challenging HB2. The organizations vowed after the special session to continue fighting in court on behalf of transgender people to prevent discrimination.
The U.S. Justice Department also has an ongoing legal battle challenging the bill.
Special session litigation
A number of legal experts, organizations and stakeholders have gone on the record stating they expect litigation to arise from a surprise special session held about two weeks ago.
Bills passed at the session stripped Gov.-elect Roy Cooper of power, redirected authority over K-12 education and changed the makeup of the State Board of Elections.
Phillips said there could be early voting concerns that arise out of the new bipartisan Board of Elections agency if a gridlock comes about while the courts sort it out.
Gerhardt said he’ll be watching to see what litigation might arise with respect to the redesign of the state educational system, in which the legislature transferred power from state school board to the state superintendent.
“There is a question whether this redesign violates the North Carolina constitution,” he said.
The NAACP of North Carolina has also threatened lawsuits against the state in the wake of the surprise special session.
Other areas to watch
Gerhardt said he will also be watching for litigation over the North Carolina legislature’s redesign of the state canvassing boards.
“There is a big question about whether or to what extent this raises a question about diluting voting rights in violation of federal voting rights law,” he said.
Additionally, Phillips said he expect the Republican-led legislature to introduce another voter suppression bill during the long session in the New Year, which would prompt more legal challenges.
The state’s “monster” voter suppression law was struck down by a federal Court of Appeals in July.
Melissa Boughton is the courts and law reporter for NC Policy Watch.