The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday stepped into the fight over partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and put on pause a lower court ruling ordering state lawmakers to re-draw congressional maps by the end of the month while an appeal in the case moves forward.
The order stated that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the request to put the lower-court order on hold.
A federal court this month ruled North Carolina’s congressional map to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander designed by the state’s Republican lawmakers to retain political power. The court had given lawmakers until 5 p.m. January 29 to submit a new map and to begin a process for appointing a special master who would draw a new congressional map if the state is unable to do so. Thursday’s ruling puts that process on hold, at least temporarily. That decreases the chances new congressional maps will be in place for the 2018 elections.
North Carolina lawmakers asked both a lower court and the Supreme Court for a stay of that ruling while it appeals. A panel of lower court judges rejected that request on Tuesday. Thursday night the Supreme Court granted that request.
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Plaintiffs in a case challenging the GOP gerrymandering scheme claimed that when Republicans redrew districting maps seven years ago, they packed Black voters into nine of 50 senate districts and 19 of 120 house districts in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The ruling comes as the Supreme Court is considering partisan gerrymander cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland. Justices heard arguments in those cases in October, and a ruling is not expected until later this year.