Candidate filings for all North Carolina elections in 2022 were suspended late Wednesday by the state Supreme Court, along with spring primaries being moved from March 8 to May 17.
The action comes in response to two lawsuits challenging the new boundaries for U.S. House seats in North Carolina and the state’s General Assembly seats, all redrawn using 2020 Census data.
The suits, brought by a group known as North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Inc. and by a separate group of individuals, seek to overturn the new districts and force them to be redrawn. The plaintiffs claim the districts are of an “extreme” partisan nature, gerrymandering the state in a way that assures the GOP captures 10 of 14 Congressional seats, along with a majority of both houses of the General Assembly.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court outlined a series of steps both sides must follow, in an effort to finish suits once and for all in time for a May primary, followed by the regularly scheduled Nov. 8 general election.
The Wednesday ruling also sets aside normal appellate rules to expedite the Supreme Court’s ability to settle the cases prior to the elections.
Under Wednesday’s ruling, the court has:
• Suspended candidate filing for all offices “until such time as a final judgment on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims, including any appeals, is entered and a remedy, if any is required, has been ordered:”
• Prevents the Board of Elections from holding the scheduled March 8 primary, instead holding the primary on May 17. The order gives courts the authority to order shortened filing periods, if necessary;
• Orders the initial trial court hearing the case to issue its ruling by Jan. 11;
• Requires “any party” wishing to appeal the trial court’s ruling to file a notice of appeal within two business days of the ruling, and to “expect that an expedited briefing and hearing schedule in this court will commence immediately thereafter.”
The order said candidates whose filing had already been accepted by their respective local boards of election are considered to have properly filed, and will be part of the elections unless they withdraw their candidacy.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court action comes on the heels of two earlier rulings this week by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, one of which had suspended candidate filings across the state for the Congressional and General Assembly seats, followed by another order reopening the filing period.
Last week the plaintiffs had made their case about why the filings should be delayed, until the trial court could rule on their suit seeking to force a redrawing of the state districts. On Monday, a three-judge panel of the appellate court granted a temporary stay for that purpose.
Tuesday, the full appeals court lifted the stay, only to have all filings delayed by Wednesday’s action.
This is far from the first time the GOP has faced such action. The party redrew congressional and General Assembly maps after the 2010 Census to such a degree that the state was embroiled in lawsuits challenging those seats until finally being forced by court order to redraw the maps in 2016, and again in 2017.