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North Carolina gerrymander suit plaintiffs want new map now

RALEIGH (AP) The U.S. Supreme Court should refuse to delay an order directing North Carolina Republicans to redraw the state’s congressional districts by next week, voter advocacy groups and Democratic voters asserted Jan. 17, saying it’s clear the lines are tainted by over-the-top political bias.

They filed briefs saying a request filed by GOP lawmakers asking that the Supreme Court block a lower-court order should be denied.

The plaintiffs in partisan gerrymandering lawsuits wrote that voters already have waited too long for lawful boundaries for the state’s 13 congressional seats. They were responding to the GOP legislators, who want enforcement of the ruling declaring their map illegal halted while it’s appealed.

A three-judge panel last week determined that Republicans who drew the maps two years ago participated in “invidious partisan discrimination” by fashioning lines that benefited Republicans and their candidates at the expense of Democrats and their supporters.

The judges told the legislature to approve new maps — what would be the third edition this decade — by Jan. 24.

The current maps came about after maps approved in 2011 were struck down because two majority-black districts were illegal racial gerrymanders.

Attorneys for the Republicans filed emergency requests for a delay, saying the case should be held until the Supreme Court justices rule in pending partisan redistricting cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. Forcing them to redraw now also would confuse voters and candidates as candidate filing begins next month, especially if the justices ultimately decide the North Carolina map is lawful, the GOP’s attorneys wrote.

But lawyers for Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and Democratic voters said the evidence is overwhelming against the lines. The judicial panel found multiple ways by which the boundaries violate the Constitution, the plaintiffs wrote, so the North Carolina lines will be struck down no matter how the justices rule in the other states.

The facts “are sufficiently egregious to make out a constitutional violation under any standard this court might plausibly adopt,” Common Cause attorney Emmet Bondurant wrote to Chief Justice John Roberts, who receives appeals from North Carolina. “The invidious, express and admitted partisan discrimination perpetrated by the General Assembly in this case is unconstitutional under any standard.”

GOP mapmakers approved criteria for the February 2016 map that stated one of their goals was to retain their 10-3 advantage within the congressional delegation. They did retain it in the elections that November. They also approved the use of past election results in helping them determine boundary decisions.

Delaying the order would make it more likely that the current maps would be used in this year’s elections, benefiting Republicans again, according to Bondurant: “The court should not signal that it will reward gamesmanship and obstinacy, especially when fundamental constitutional rights are at stake.”

“Supporters of the Democratic Party will again be targeted for their political beliefs, their votes devalued and their voices muted,” added Paul Smith, an attorney for the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, representing the League of Women Voters and writing in a separate brief.

While there’s no deadline for Roberts or the court to provide a decision, the justices were scheduled to meet in a private conference Jan. 19, after which they won’t convene for nearly a month. The attorneys for the Republican lawmakers had requested a ruling by Jan. 22.

The three-judge panel — U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn and District Judges William Osteen and Earl Britt — denied a similar request from Republican legislators asking them to delay enforcement of their order.

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