Judges reject new NC elections, but set Sept. 1 deadline for redrawing districts

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A three-judge panel ruled GOP lawmakers must quickly redraw gerrymandered districts.

A panel of three federal judges has ruled that North Carolina Republicans have until September 1 to redraw district lines deemed unconstitutional.

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In the order released Monday evening, the judges also denied a request to demand new elections ahead of November 2018, citing timing and administrative issues that would hinder the process.


Although the GOP's lawyers also argued they needed until this November to redraw maps, the judges disagreed.

"Legislative defendants have offered no evidence to support their contention that they need 3 more months to remedy the constitutional violations identified by this court almost a year ago, nor have they offered any evidence that they have not begun to evaluate what the revised districts might look like," the order said.

The order follows a heated hearing last Thursday when attorneys representing Democratic voters and attorneys representing GOP lawmakers took turns laying out their timelines for how and when district maps should be redrawn.

Both the district court and U.S. Supreme Court ruled the maps, originally drawn after the 2010 census, are illegal because they discriminately targeted minority voters by placing them in districts based on race and not geography.

"We are encouraged by today's court ruling and hope that this decision allows North Carolina citizens to finally get the fair representation from their state government they deserve," said Wayne Goodwin, NC Democratic Party chairman. "As the ruling outlined, this unconstitutionally elected Republican caucus has dragged their feet for far too long on drawing democratic maps. It's high time the people of North Carolina pick their representatives, not the other way around."

According to the original judgment, 18 House districts and nine Senate districts must be redrawn, in addition to the neighboring districts affected by those racially gerrymandered.

The Rev. William Barber II, leader of the NC NAACP, issued a fiery statement after the court ruling, calling the order a "major victory for our democracy and a huge step towards restoring justice in the electoral process.

Barber accused Republicans of using the unconstitutional districts to "cheat and win elections."

A group representing the voters seeking a special election focused in a release Monday night on the accelerated schedule to draw new boundaries.

"This prompt redrawing will allow North Carolinians to at least rest assured, knowing which districts they will be living in come the November 2018 elections, and that the federal court will be reviewing the remedial plans closely to ensure they are legal," said Allison Riggs, an attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Legislative leaders didn't immediately respond to emails and a text late Monday from The Associated Press seeking comment on the order, written by U.S. District Judges Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder, along with Judge Jim Wynn of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Republican lawmakers have said they'll have to alter two-thirds of the General Assembly's 170 districts while fixing the 28 cited.

Democrats need to capture three House seats or six Senate seats currently held by Republicans to eliminate the GOP's veto-proof majorities and give Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper more leverage. But without a special election, the chance won't come for more than 15 months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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