Shortly after 10 pm Friday evening the U.S. Supreme Court issued the following statement: “The application for a stay presented to the Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is denied.”
No reasons were given for denying the stay and no further explanation was forthcoming. Reading between the lines it appears that Roberts did not make the decision alone, leading to speculation that there were not enough votes to grant the state’s request for a stay of the three judge federal panel’s decision demanding new congressional maps be drawn by North Carolina.
There is widespread chatter that if Justice Scalia was still alive the stay may have been granted, but we will never know, just as we don’t know how the decision was reached.
Legislative leaders were not surprised, however. We’re told that they were informed that if a stay wasn’t granted by Tuesday at 1 pm they weren’t likely to see a stay granted and were fully prepared for the late night Supreme Court verdict. The legislation they passed late this week was crafted in such a way as to deal with either possibility.
So now the just-passed, reconfigured congressional maps will take effect and congressional primary elections will be scheduled on June 7th. But this is not a done deal just yet.
First, Governor McCrory must sign into law the legislation that was finalized. That is expected to be accomplished quickly. Next, the three judge panel that had originally declared congressional districts 1 and 12 unconstitutional, must review the new maps drawn, maps that reconfigure all congressional districts. They must decide if all the new districts conform to their earlier decision, while also conforming to the Voting Rights Act, specifically section 2 relating to minority voters.
If judges determine that the new maps pass muster it is expected more lawsuits will arise, lawsuits that might further delay the process. There is already some conjuncture that the new maps submitted by the state might not meet the panel’s requirements, those of the Voting Rights Act, or both. If so, that panel might again send them back to the legislature for reworking or, as has happened in other cases, the panel might decide to undertake a the drawing of the maps themselves.
If approval is obtained, filing for congressional races can begin on March 16th, as anticipated by the legislative action, but if approval is delayed or denied it begs the question whether a congressional primary can be held on June 7th.
As Dan Blue, longtime legal scholar and legislator, said late Friday afternoon, the courts move at their own pace and are neither bound by nor particularly influenced by election calendars.
Here’s what we know: There will be no congressional primaries on March 15th. All other primaries and the Connect NC Bond referendum will be held as scheduled. A decision as to whether the legislature’s new congressional districts are constitutional needs to be made in a timely way and there are many speculating as to whether or not that can happen, so the question of June 7th congressional primaries is still undecided. All the while candidates are lining up to run.
Another three-judge federal panel is determining whether or not legislative districts are constitutional. The most commonly held opinion is that between 3 and 8 of them will be declared in violation of the constitution, but few believe such a decision will be delivered prior to the March 15th primary date and legislative primaries will be held using the current districts. Both verdicts will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear them, perhaps concurrently, sometime this summer.
On another note, the recent decision by a panel of NC Superior Court judges that the “retention” election of Supreme Court Justices is unconstitutional further clouds this year’s elections. This decision will be appealed to the NC Supreme Court, raising two important questions: will Justice Bob Edmunds, the Justice who is the subject of the lawsuit and is the only candidate for this retention vote, recuse himself from that decision. Common sense and fairness dictate he should do so. But the larger question is whether a verdict will be reached in time to impact the March 15th Primary Election date.
The courts are playing an ever-increasing and important role in public policy and personal decisions. All of these court issues detract from the March 15th elections.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of N.C. Spin.