Published December 9, 2021
By Thomas Mills
The filing date is off again. Late yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ordered primaries delayed pending review of the case against the districts. The primaries will be held on May 17 and filings have been frozen, but anyone who has already filed will not be required to file again.
Republicans drew the districts on a tight timeline after census data was delayed until late summer. They could have drawn districts that would have avoided a court challenge or they could have pushed back the election schedule to accommodate the impending court cases instead of keeping a March primary date. Traditionally, primaries in North Carolina have been held in May, but Republicans moved them to March in presidential years so the state would have influence over presidential nominees.
The legislature was trying to condense the process to just four months from maps to primaries in hopes that the courts would let the districts stand for this year, ruling that there’s not enough time to hear the case before the election. Republicans have learned that they can get a lot of unpopular bills through the legislature under unconstitutional maps. The Supreme Court didn’t play along.
Conservatives, of course, are crying foul, blaming the courts for playing politics. Republican Senator Ralph Hise responded to the ruling by saying, “The Democrats on the Supreme Court want districts that elect more Democrats, so they’re blocking every election in the state until they get their way.” But Hise and his ilk are wrong. Republicans sued because of redistricting maps throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Primaries were halted or moved in 1998, 2002, and 2004 because of GOP lawsuits. From 2004 until 2010, the legislature ran under maps approved by a judge, not the legislature. Republicans had no problems with those lawsuits or those rulings. I am happy to tell you that hypocrisy is alive and well in the GOP.
There’s a difference, though, between the lawsuits then and the lawsuits today. Back then, Democratic judges were usually the ones ruling against maps drawn by Democrats. Those judges were more interested in protecting democracy than protecting political advantage. So far, no Republican judges seem willing to buck the legislative branch and put a check on an attempted power grab by the leadership of the General Assembly.
The only things consistent in our redistricting process are the Democratic judges who have stood up to unconstitutional maps and legislative overreach. It would be good to see some Republican judges follow suit.