Wake County judge declines to delay 2022 primary amid battle over new congressional maps

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A Wake County judge declined on Tuesday to delay next year’s primary election amid a battle over the new congressional and state legislative district maps that Republicans enacted earlier this month.

Nonpartisan groups, including Common Cause North Carolina, had sought to move the primary from March to May and wanted Republicans to start over on creating the new districts.

Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley said as of now the maps have not been deemed unconstitutional.

“There’s no harm to address in this case,” he said.

But, he noted a three-judge panel will hold a hearing Friday that deals directly with the legality of the maps.

“Nothing I have said nor should this order be construed as any opinion of the court on the constitutionality or validity of the maps that have been passed,” he said.

Several lawsuits have been filed regarding the state’s redistricting process and whether Republicans illegally gerrymandered the maps. Independent experts who’ve analyzed the maps found they give Republicans a significant advantage in retaining control of the General Assembly and gaining seats in Congress.

Of the state’s 14 congressional districts, Republicans are favored to win 10. Three favor Democrats, with one being a tossup.

Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, a bipartisan group of former governors from across the country, including former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs.

“I have pledged to do everything I can, to fight in every state, to terminate partisan gerrymandering. These latest maps in North Carolina are yet another example of politicians placing their interests above the people,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “The courts must ensure we have fair maps and fair representation for North Carolinians and all Americans. The first three words of the constitution are ‘We the people,’ not ‘We the politicians,’ and we need courts to stand up for the people when their politicians won’t.”

State House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) noted that Republicans broadcast the map-drawing process live online.

“I’m sorry if we disappointed the Terminator. I’m actually a huge fan of his acting,” he said. “I think the process is very important. We actually mirrored, while we were not required to do this process, we did a process very similar to what the courts suggested that we do the last time.”

Hilary Harris Klein, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, argued Tuesday that state lawmakers should have considered the racial demographic data of voters to ensure the maps were compliant with the Voting Rights Act.

The groups filed the lawsuit before the maps were enacted, arguing that the process would produce flawed maps.

There are additional lawsuits pending, including one filed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and one supported by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

The filing period for the March primary begins on Dec. 6.

“It is a tight timeline,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC following Tuesday’s hearing. “You have the maps for the 2022 election being run on maps that perhaps again are in violation of the law. No one really wants that. We shouldn’t want that.”

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