RALEIGH, NC — A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday Nov. 29th that North Carolina must hold special elections in 2017 for a number of seats in the General Assembly to rectify unconstitutional racial gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts.
Legislators elected earlier this month from affected districts will have their terms shortened to one year from two.
The appeals court allowed the 2016 election to proceed with the current districts because its finding that the districts had been racially gerrymandered came shortly before the election. State legislators elected during the special election will also serve one-year terms.
Now, the state has until March 15th to submit a new redistricting plan, the court ruled. If no plan is submitted, the plaintiffs who challenged the districts, which were drawn in 2011, will be able to submit a new redistricting plan by March 17th. If neither of those things happens, the court will redraw the districts.
The districts ruled illegal are:
North Carolina House of Representatives Districts 5, 7, 12, 21, 24, 29, 31, 32, 33, 38, 42, 43, 48, 57, 58, 60, 99,102 and 107
North Carolina Senate Districts 4, 5, 14, 20, 21, 28, 32, 38 and 40.
“While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the judges wrote.
The chairmen of the redistricting committees in the state’s House of Representatives and Senate released a statement Tuesday night condemning the decision.
“This politically-motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms,” Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Bob Rucho said in the release, adding that they have already appealed the original U.S. District Court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court hears the case and overturns the ruling, the special election would be canceled and current districts restored for the 2018 election.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented plaintiffs in the redistricting lawsuit, praised Tuesday’s order.
“North Carolinians deserve fair representation in the state legislature, and that is impossible to achieve with racially gerrymandered districts,” executive director Anita Earls said in a news release. “A special election in the affected districts in 2017 is the best way to protect the rights of all North Carolinians.”