A three judge panel at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down two General Assembly redistricting measures. The ruling caught lawmakers at a chaotic time, as they’re holding closed-door meetings to consider changes to House Bill 2, while trying to adjourn for the year, prior to the July 4th weekend.
In 2013, Republicans at the state legislature redrew district boundaries for Wake County School Board. Last year, they approved new maps for Wake County Commissioners. A group of citizens then filed a lawsuit against the General Assembly for violating state and federal rights to one person, one vote.
On Friday, a three judge panel out of the federal Appellate Court in Richmond, Virginia sided with those citizens and ruled the maps unconstitutional.
Judges agreed with plaintiffs’ claims that the maps are not balanced adequately from a population stand point. The judges wrote that "they see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today."
"I haven’t even read the decision yet," said Senator Chad Barefoot (R-Wake), an architect of the County Commissioner redistricting bill, on the chamber floor Friday. "It’s pretty busy around here right now and I am not even sure what comes next."
"A number of things could happen," remarked Senator Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) moments later, after speaking with other Senate colleagues.
The ruling issues a permanent injunction against the new maps that had been scheduled to use this fall. This decision affects all of the school board seats and some of the County Commissioners seats. It’s conceivable that lawmakers could hold a special session to redraw the maps, though unlikely.
A lower federal court could issue a ruling and reinstate previously used maps. Senator Blue said it’s also possible that there would be no election for school board or County Commissioner this fall.
Last year, a federal judge in a lower court stopped a Greensboro redistricting law from taking effect.
Lawmakers are in the final stretch of this legislative session. Still just hours after the Appellate ruling, they indicated they would consider election maps in a House Committee meeting sometime late Friday.