Earlier this year, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was responsible for unprecedented disenfranchisement of thousands of North Carolina voters earlier this year for congressional primaries when the court threw out district maps.
This past month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown yet another election in North Carolina into chaos when it threw out the Wake County voting maps involving the Wake County Board of Commissioners and Wake County School districts.
The timing of the 4th Circuit’s ruling is likely not coincidental. The 4th Court ruled on July 1st, which was the same day the NC General Assembly adjourned for the year. And as Barry Smith of Carolina Journal writes in an article today, “The primaries for county commissioner were held on March 15. Filing for the school board races ended on July 1, the same day the 4th Circuit’s ruling came out.”
This means that should the an appeal to stay the 4th Circuit’s ruling until after the November election fail, at bare minimum the Wake County Board of Commissioner’s primary race results could be tossed out.
The Wake County maps had previous survived two legal challenges. In response to the first lawsuit filed in 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle ruled the maps constitutional in March of 2014 and Judge James Dever again ruled the maps constitutional in early 2016.
In both prior rulings, the main reason for upholding the maps was that the plaintiffs had ‘failed to make their case‘.
The 4th Circuit panel’s July 1st ruling was a 2-1 vote, which even suggested that the coming November elections perhaps shouldn’t happen. Part of the ruling states that, “We see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today.”
This portion of the 4th Circuit’s ruling drew a reaction from judges in North Carolina, including the lower U.S. court Judge James Dever, who ruled the maps constitutional earlier this year.
In an order released late Friday, Dever instructed the Wake Board County Board of Elections to tell him what deadlines were approaching for the fall elections. Dever also asked whether having a new primary for commission races would be feasible or not. Dever wrote that, “The people in Wake County deserve and will have elections for the Wake County School Board and the Wake County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 8”.
Dever’s earlier ruling stated that, “The court finds that the General Assembly did not engage in invidious discrimination, act arbitrarily, or act in bad faith in enabling the 2013 Wake County School Board Plan or the 2015 Wake County Commissioners Plan,”.
In a closed session on July 11th, the Wake County Board of Elections met to discuss the issue. The response came on Wednesday the 13th, when the board voted to appeal the 4th Circuit panel’s decision. The Wake County Board of Elections will apparently make their appeal to the full 15-member Circuit Court.
This week, state lawmakers are attempting to get back onto the legal playing field regarding these maps. Barry Smith of Carolina Journal reported:
On Thursday, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, issued a statement saying they plan to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit and appeal the ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit, saying Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to provide an adequate defense of the maps for the state. The decision by legislative leaders came a day after the Wake board voted to appeal the ruling to the full appeals court.
Earlier this week, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said he hoped Berger and Moore would attempt to intervene as defendants and seek an immediate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said that the House speaker and Senate leader had been “involuntarily dismissed” as defendants from the lawsuit challenging the Wake districts, adding that when the case got to the 4th Circuit, no one went to bat for lawmakers who redrew the districts.
The Carolina Journal article goes on to cite Anita Earls, the attorney for the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, who made the claim that, “The attorney general’s office filed briefs arguing that we had no legal right to add them and they should not be added,”. Clearly, lawmakers beg to differ.