Full NC Appeals Court overturns panel ruling that delayed filings in key political races

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- BREAKING UPDATE:: The full 15-member North Carolina Court of Appeals has undone the order from Monday morning that temporarily blocked candidates from filing for several key political races.

The order vacates the temporary stay and means that candidates can resume filing for political races starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The Court of Appeals ruling, however, has no bearing on the actual merits of the challenge to North Carolina's new congressional and state legislative voting districts, which continue to move through the court process.

Also on Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein filed an amicus brief to the North Carolina Supreme Court, petitioning the justices to quickly hear arguments on the case.

There are two simultaneous lawsuits challenging the voting maps, which were approved by the Republican-led General Assembly this year. The NC NAACP and the NC League of Conservation Voters both accuse Republicans of unfairly drawing maps to give them a partisan advantage.

An order signed by the court's clerk late in the day declared a majority of the judges agreed to rehear the matter, and that the temporary delay of the filing period has been vacated. Ten of the 15 Court of Appeals judges are registered Republicans.

State Board of Elections spokesperson Pat Gannon said. Candidate filing is supposed to continue until noon Dec. 17. It's possible the state Supreme Court could intervene.

The late order capped a curious day, in which candidates for 2022 elections - save for those seeking the 170 General Assembly and 14 U.S. House seats - turned in filing documents with the State Board of Elections and at local election offices in all 100 counties. They included candidates for U.S. Senate, judicial seats and city and county positions.

State elections board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said Monday that candidate filing could be delayed a few days beyond the current Dec. 17 end date and keep the primary date in place, but not much more.

Nathan Click, a candidate for US House of Representatives, told ABC11 that "we're still trying to figure out what our next step is filing-wise and what that means."

Click, a Democrat, said he is going to file "whenever we're allowed to do that."

Click said he believes the state Supreme Court will "recognize this partisan gerrymandering in violation of the state's constitution."

"The most important thing is voters this cycle get fair maps," Click said. "And however that happens, I'll deal with whatever inconveniences come my way."

-- ABC11's Jonah Kaplan, DeJuan Hoggard and The Associated Press contributed to this update.

ORIGINAL STORY:

The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Monday temporarily blocked candidates from filing for several key political races because of an ongoing dispute over new voting districts.

The decision means anyone interested in running for office in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as both chambers in the North Carolina General Assembly, will have to wait to declare their candidacy because there could be new boundaries for their respective districts after several lawsuits accused Republican lawmakers of an unfair partisan gerrymander.

According to the court order, defendants have until Thursday to respond to the court on why the original districts should remain in place.

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The North Carolina Court of Appeals has indefinitely delayed candidate filing for some races Monday.



The Republican-led General Assembly approved the new maps earlier this year after the release of the 2020 Census.

Rep. Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, lauded his GOP colleagues for approving the maps after several weeks of committee meetings that were broadcast live for the first time. The maps split the state into 50 State Senate districts, 120 House of Representatives, and 14 Congressional districts.

"This is the most transparent process in the history of this state," Hall said after the maps were approved in votes along party lines. "We voluntarily chose to be out in public and not use election data, even though by law we didn't have to do that. We chose to do that because that's the right thing to do. We did that. This body did that."

Though Democrats roundly voted against all the proposed maps, they reserved particular ire for the congressional map which several analysts predict will give the GOP a good chance of winning as many as 11 of 14 districts -- an astounding number considering how evenly divided the state is between registered Democrats, Republicans and independents.

"When I look at these congressional maps--they stink," Rep. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt County, blasted. "People don't want gerrymandering. That's what we have, People don't want us packing. That's what we're doing. People don't want us to separate people with the same interest. That's what we're doing."

Historically, Democrats and Republicans in North Carolina and across the country have been accused of drawing maps that presuppose outcomes to help their electoral chances.

Gerrymandering: What is it and how does it hurt voters?

Complaints about partisan gerrymandering almost always arise when one party controls the redistricting process and has the ability to maximize the seats it holds in a state legislature or its state's congressional delegation. Republicans, however, have been under intense scrutiny since becoming the majority party in 2010.

Several times in the last decade, courts have thrown out their maps after voting rights groups successfully argued they were unconstitutional. Before the courts intervened, Republicans held 10 of 13 congressional districts in a state that tends to have closely decided statewide elections. Likewise in the General Assembly, Republicans held comfortable majorities in the House and Senate and even held veto-proof super-majorities from 2012-2018. In the 2020 election, new maps kept those majorities in the House and Senate, but the congressional delegation went eight Republicans and five Democrats.

Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2019 on partisan redistricting - in a case involving North Carolina - where the 5-4 majority ruled federal judges should stay out of state redistricting issues.

"What the appellees and dissent seek is an unprecedented expansion of judicial power," wrote Justice John Roberts, adding that voters and elected officials should be the arbiters of what they consider a political dispute.

Despite the SCOTUS decision, legal fights remain in the North Carolina Supreme Court over whether partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution.

A new lawsuit, moreover, was filed in Wake County last month by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), which brought the case on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, Common Cause, and individual voters.

"Lawmakers' supposed 'race-blind' redistricting process is rigged to reduce the strength of our votes, silence our voices, and negate decades of struggle and sacrifice for fairer maps," said Deborah Dicks Maxwell, President of the North Carolina NAACP. "You can't represent all of North Carolina if you claim not to see us."

The impact of the new maps have already been felt even before filing, as longtime Democratic Congressmen David Price and G.K. Butterfield announced their retirements. Butterfield, in particular, has long represented a majority-minority district that was redrawn by North Carolina Republicans in the latest redistricting, putting his seat in jeopardy.
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