WASHINGTON — North Carolina officials went to the Supreme Court on Friday seeking to stop special elections that were ordered last month by a lower court.
The officials hired high-power Republican Supreme Court lawyer Paul Clement to ask the US Supreme Court to halt a district court's order from Nov. 29 that a special election be held for state legislative seats in North Carolina in 2017. The order came in a lawsuit brought against legislative, redistricting committee, and election board leaders.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, is being succeeded on Sunday by Democrat Roy Cooper, currently the state's attorney general. After fighting his re-election defeat, McCrory signed into law several pieces of legislation passed in a special session of the General Assembly that diminish the power of the governor and alter the balance of power between the political parties in the state — including the state elections board. (Some of those new laws are subject to their own, unrelated lawsuits).
Now, the officials being sued are challenging the November court order, which followed up an August decision from the district court finding that the North Carolina legislative maps, as challenged, were unconstitutional, racially gerrymandered maps. Although the district court — given the timing of the August ruling — allowed elections to proceed under those maps, the November order called for the General Assembly to draw new maps and hold a special election in 2017 to remedy the problem.
North Carolina is appealing the August ruling, asking the Supreme Court to reverse the finding that the maps are unconstitutional. Despite that, Clement wrote for the state on Friday, "the district court has now ordered the most extreme and intrusive remedy possible: partial invalidation of an election and imposition of a special election that overrides multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution (not to mention the reasonable expectations of North Carolina voters)."
As such, the officials are now asking the US Supreme Court to put the order for a new election to be put on hold until the challenge to the August ruling can be resolved. The state had asked the district court to stay the order on Dec. 2, a request that the plaintiffs in the case opposed in a Dec. 23 filing. The district court is yet to rule on the request.
Nonetheless, the officials asked the Supreme Court to act now. "There is plenty of time for this Court to review the merits and ensure that the next regularly scheduled elections occur in districts that fully comply with the Constitution," Clement wrote for the state. "But even if this Court wants to preserve the possibility of a special election, it would still be preferable to grant the stay and expedite the appeal in this case."
The request was filed with Chief Justice John Roberts, who hears such requests out of North Carolina.
The defendants in the case include legislative, redistricting committee, and election board leaders. The story initially incorrectly named Gov. Pat McCrory as defending the lawsuit, but he is not a party to the case. A spokesperson for McCrory confirmed to BuzzFeed News that, "Governor McCrory did not have anything to do with the legal motion filed in the US Supreme Court." The spokesperson went on to say that the governor's office is not a party to that lawsuit and not involved in the case.