RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A federal appeals court has ruled 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 the 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 15 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 17. If neither of those things happens, the court will redraw the districts.
“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 (R-Harnett) and Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) said.
Attorneys representing legislative mapmakers wanted more time to redraw and the next election in 2018. Those lawmakers now say they’ll appeal Tuesday’s decision.
But a lawyer who successfully sued over the districts says a special election is the best way to protect the rights of North Carolina residents.
The districts ruled unconstitutional 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.
The order includes these House seats in central NC:
District 7: Franklin/Nash (D-Bobbie Richardson)
District 21: Duplin/Sampson/Wayne (D-Larry Bell)
District 24: Pitt/Wilson (D-Jean Farmer Butterfield)
District 29: Durham (D-Larry Hall)
District 31: Durham (D-Henry M Michaux Jr)
District 32: Granville/Vance/Warren (D-Nathan Baskerville)
District 33: Wake (D-Rosa Gill)
District 38: Wake (D-Yvonne Lewis Holley)
District 42: Cumberland (D- Marvin W. Lucas)
District 43: Cumberland (D-Elmer Floyd)
District 48: Hoke/Richmond/Robeson/Scotland (D- Garland E. Pierce) >>re-elected 2016 election
The order includes these Senate seats in central NC:
District 4: Halifax/Nash/Vance/Warren/Wilson (D-Angela Bryant)
District 5: Wayne/Pitt/Lenoir/Greene (D-Don Davis)
District 14: Wake (D-Dan Blue)
District 20: Durham/Granville (D-Floyd McKissick JR)
District 21: Cumberland/Hoke (D-Ben CLark)
— The Associated Press contributed to this report