Yesterday, in a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the decision by a three-judge panel that struck down North Carolina’s newest Congressional map (Common Cause v. Rucho).
On January 9, a panel of judges struck down North Carolina’s relatively new congressional districts maintaining that they were partisan gerrymanders. The Fourth Circuit had ordered the legislature to draw a new Congressional map by January 24. At the same time, the court said that it would appoint a “Special Master” to draw the same map.
The districts in question are the congressional districts redrawn in February 2016 after a panel of judges had ruled that the Republican majority had relied too heavily on race when they drew the 1st and 12th congressional districts in 2011. The 2011 congressional map had been approved by the U.S. Justice Department and the North Carolina Supreme Court and used in the 2012 and 2014 elections. The 2016 map was used in the 2016 Primary and General Election.
The appointment of a “Special Master” in this case would have come on the heels of a “Special Master” being appointed to draw the new legislative maps in Covington v. North Carolina. A different three-judge panel hired an outside “expert” from Stanford University to redraw North Carolina’s legislative districts in October 2016. The appointment of “Special Masters” appear to be an attempt to force a so-called non-partisan redistricting process on our state. (Covington v. North Carolina is an ongoing case, click here for a timeline for some of North Carolina’s current redistricting lawsuits)
Interesting to note, there is one common denominator in the two Federal panels (Covington v. North Carolina and Common Cause v. Rucho) calling for outsiders to draw North Carolina’s districts – Judge James Wynn sits on both panels. He also was a member of the three-judge panel that struck down the congressional districts in 2016. It seems Wynn is assigned to a lot of cases that involve North Carolina election laws. In fact Ed Whelan, writing for the National Review Online made that same observation in a December 2016 article titled Fishy Panel Assignments in North Carolina Election Cases.