Supreme Court blocks order to redraw NC congressional map by next week.

North Carolina Senate chamber

The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republican lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional districts by next week because of excessive partisan bias in current lines.

The justices announced their decision late Thursday after legal briefs were filed for and against the GOP legislators' request for a delay.

Their lawyers successfully argued that a three-judge panel's ruling last week declaring the state congressional map an illegal partisan gerrymander should be put on hold while similar cases from Wisconsin and Maryland before the Supreme Court are settled.

"We are grateful that the Supreme Court has halted the partisan political efforts of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, who tried to inject utter chaos in our elections just days before filing begins," said NCGOP Chairman Robin Hayes. "Today's ruling allows our congressional elections to proceed under the fair and legal maps used in the 2016 elections. We hope the Supreme Court will soon review the Fourth Circuit's similar unprecedented actions in the legislative redistricting case and offer similar relief."

The Supreme Court's order said the delay remains in place while the case is appealed. The request was considered by the entire court, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the request for the delay, according to the order.

"North Carolinians deserve to participate in fair elections in 2018," Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said in a release. "We still believe the day is coming soon for the General Assembly to be held to account for this madness."

But GOP Rep. David Lewis, who helped draw the map, tweeted that the Supreme Court had reined in the "overreach" of the lower court. A lawyer representing the League of Women Voters said that although disappointed with the decision, she was optimistic that the Supreme Court would rule during its term that partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional.

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin expressed his dissatisfaction.

"This is an extremely disappointing decision, one that rewards an unconstitutionally elected Republican caucus and condemns voters to yet another election under unconstitutional districts. For nearly a decade, North Carolina voters have suffered under the worst unconstitutional gerrymanders in the county - racial and now, partisan," Goodwin said. "Despite this decision, Democrats are committed to challenging Republicans across the state who have shown they are more interested in rigging our elections for their own partisan benefit than listening to their constituents."

The ruling means North Carolina's case won't be resolved until potentially summer or later, increasing the odds that the current boundaries, where Republicans hold 10 of the state's 13 congressional seats, will be used in the November election. Candidate filing begins next month for the May primaries. Republican attorneys had argued that requiring a new map - the third since 2011 - would have confused voters and candidates. GOP legislators are planning a formal appeal.

Now the case will await decisions on the cases from the other states during a Supreme Court term in which redistricting already figures prominently. Earlier this month, the justices agreed to hear Texas' appeal to preserve two congressional districts and statehouse districts affecting four counties that a lower court struck down as racially discriminatory.

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

The three-judge panel ruled last week that emphasis on partisan outcomes resulted in "invidious partisan discrimination" whereby lines illegally benefited Republicans and their candidates at the expense of Democrats and their supporters.

The judges unanimously agreed that the map violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and its direction to the state to hold congressional elections because it took the power to elect their representatives away from the people. A majority of the panel also decided First Amendment rights to free speech and association were violated for Democrats in each district where their favored candidate had little chance to win.

"We are disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to stay a three-judge panel's order that the North Carolina General Assembly immediately redraw the state's unconstitutional congressional maps," said Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy North Carolina. "However, we remain hopeful that the Court will ultimately strike down partisan gerrymanders in the cases currently before it, and set a national precedent that people, not parties, should pick their representatives."

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