In their latest move to retain power over redistricting and stall the hour of reckoning on their extreme partisan gerrymandering, the state House and Senate approved House Bill 605 along party lines last week. The bill would move the primary from May 17 to June 7.
We might not be in this situation if legislative leaders hadn’t stalled the redistricting process until late last fall, believing courts would have insufficient time to consider litigation prior to this year’s elections and they would get away with rigging elections for at least another two years. Instead, the state Supreme Court said, “not this time” — and put the election process on hold until the courts have time to do their job. It’s a reminder we still have three independent branches of government.
As part of the litigation process, justices already moved the primary from March 8 to May 17 to allow more time for our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of legislators’ congressional and state legislative maps to resolve. Legislators’ goal with HB605 is to persuade justices to give them another crack at redrawing lines if they overturn the maps. As it stands, candidate filing will resume February 24, not long after a ruling is expected.
The irony is last year, these same legislators rebuffed repeated requests by the state Board of Elections and minority party legislators to delay the primary and provide more time to properly draw maps and finish litigation before candidate filing opened. Only now that the timeline is tight and the court may order new maps without legislative input are these pro-polluter politicians trying to buy more time.
Their game is unlikely to work. Gov. Roy Cooper argued this is an inappropriate intervention in ongoing litigation and that the courts should retain the sole ability to set the election calendar. He is expected to veto the bill, and he has enough votes in the House and Senate to uphold his veto.
The General Assembly acted as justices begin mulling briefs from the parties in our expedited appeal of the lower court’s ruling. On Friday, we filed our opening brief, and Gov. Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein jointly filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down the gerrymandered maps. The court has scheduled oral arguments for February 2.
In the press release announcing the amicus brief, Cooper pointed out that the trial court panel “recognized what has been obvious all along, that the legislative and congressional maps were intentionally gerrymandered. That’s wrong and unconstitutional because it strips voters of their voice and power in our democracy.”
“Partisan gerrymandering distorts our democracy and violates our constitution. North Carolina’s constitution guarantees that people are sovereign and our elections are free,” said Stein. “That’s why voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will return the power to the people by clarifying that our constitution prohibits partisan gerrymandering.”
So do we. Stay tuned.