RALEIGH, N.C. — Rivals in a North Carolina congressional redistricting case wrote separately Friday it's too late to hold November's elections under a new map, increasing pressure on federal judges who struck down the current boundaries to leave them in place this year.
A three-judge panel on Monday declared 12 of the state's 13 congressional districts unconstitutional, citing excessive partisan bias by Republican state lawmakers who drew the map in 2016 with a goal of retaining ten of the seats.
The judges mentioned the possibility of requiring new districts, either by the state legislature or an outside expert, mere weeks before Election Day. They had asked for input by from parties in the case by Friday.
A redrawn map likely would aid national Democrats in their drive to collect an additional 23 seats to win back control of the U.S. House.
Attorneys for Republican lawmakers who defended the current map and opposed Monday's ruling asked the judges to delay its enforcement. They also filled a notice of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices there have yet to declare partisan gerrymandering claims can be determined by a court, and GOP lawyers contend there's a strong possibility the panel's decision will be reversed.
Less expected was the brief filed by election advocacy groups and Democrats who sued over the maps. They wrote that imposing a new plan for this year would be "too disruptive and potentially counterproductive." They said it should wait for the 2020 elections.
The "plaintiffs have concluded — with the utmost frustration and regret — that a statewide redistricting just weeks before Election Day would not be a good-government solution," their attorneys wrote.
Their lawyers said it would be Oct. 1 before legislators or a special master could draw a new map, for the plaintiffs to make formal objections and the judges to sign off on the final product. Only then could candidates come forward and run in specific districts, and state election officials would then have to assign nearly 7 million voters to each of the 13 new districts.
The lawyers representing the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Common Cause, state Democratic Party and individual Democratic voters, also pointed out the likelihood that the Supreme Court would block enforcement of the judges' order.
When the same three judges declared unconstitutional the state's congressional map last January, the Supreme Court halted the lower court's demand that new lines be drawn immediately for this year's election.
"With the 2018 election now so much closer, plaintiffs cannot comfortably predict a different outcome," their lawyers wrote. The justices returned the case to the three-judge panel in June to review it in light of a Wisconsin case, leading to this week's decision.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn, writing the majority decision Monday, suggested primaries for redrawn seats could be held in November, with a general election before Congress convenes. Or there could be only a general election, presumably with any number of candidates affiliated with multiple parties running for each seat.
In another brief filed Friday, attorneys for the state and State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement said there wasn't enough time to implement the first option, given logistical and security requirements.
As for the second option, the board offered a schedule to hold a stand-alone congressional election on Dec. 18, but in-person early voting or certain absentee voting would be curtailed or cancelled. The state wasn't advocating for any remedy, the memorandum said. The plaintiffs said a separate congressional election could depress voter turnout, particularly for young and minority voters.