WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court this week faces its first decision since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in a case involving congressional districts in North Carolina, where state officials are under a lower court order to redraw district lines by Friday.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and state election officials have asked the justices to let them use the current congressional districts for the coming election. The Supreme Court was considering that request when Scalia died over the weekend.
Scalia’s death increases the chances that the court could tie 4-4 on whether to grant a stay of the court order. The four justices comprising the liberal wing of the court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — could vote to deny the state’s request. They have tended to agree on issues that involve voting rights.
A tie would leave in place the order from a three-judge panel, which found that race predominated in the drawing of two of the state’s congressional districts, both held by black Democrats. The panel directed the state to draw new districts by Feb. 19.
North Carolina officials, who want to appeal the three-judge panel’s decision, told the court that the order could cause “massive electoral chaos” because the election process started months ago.
Thousands of absentee ballots have been distributed and hundreds of those ballots have already been returned. The primary election is less than 40 days away and, if the judgment is not stayed, voting may have to be disrupted or delayed, the state’s application said.