Lawsuits Over Maps, Election Uncertainty
Next month, politicians and politician-wannabes will be making official their hopes for higher office as filing for elected offices in North Carolina begins.
Or maybe they won't.
This is the year that new legislative and congressional district maps are scheduled to go into effect.
Maybe they will or maybe they won't.
The answer may determine whether Republicans solidify their 2010 gains in the state legislature.
Already, Democratic politicians and Democratic-allied groups who have filed suit to block the maps are asking the courts to delay the election process. They want election filing pushed back until April and the May primary delayed until July.
The delay is being requested so that the courts can decide whether the new maps are constitutional.
Precedent suggests that the request will be granted, that the May primary will be delayed.
The 2002 primary was pushed back until summer because of a similar lawsuit. At that time, Republicans were suing legislative Democrats, who held the majorities in the state House and Senate and were responsible for drawing the lines.
In 2012, Democrats are hoping for the same kind of success that Republicans enjoyed in 2002, when GOP officials got the maps tossed out.
Short of getting the maps thrown out, Democrats hope to delay them taking effect for one more election cycle. Under that scenario, they believe that they might make a run at taking back control of the state House and narrowing the Republican advantage in the Senate.
No amount of tea-leaf reading can predict the outcome.
But a lot of Republican legislators and their staffers seem pretty confident that the maps will hold and be used in this year's election. Their reasoning seems to be that, because the Obama Justice Department pre-cleared the maps, waiving any objections on the basis of the federal Voting Rights Act, the courts will look upon them favorably as well.
That assessment may prove accurate.
Here's why it may not: The legal issues that the courts will ultimately delve into will prove more complicated than the Voting Rights Act.
The U.S. Justice Department wasn't forced to look too closely at North Carolina's whole-county provision, which holds that legislative districts must necessarily include whole counties when not bumping up against other constitutional considerations, in reaching its pre-clearance decision.
The courts will be.
One reason that the courts will have to take a hard look at the provision is because legislative Republicans have reinterpreted it. The reinterpretation has come just a decade after the court case that re-established the provision in drawing the maps.
By applying a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affecting a minority-influence district in New Hanover County more broadly, GOP legislators scaled back the provision that they championed in 2001.
So don't be surprised if the result is plenty of interplay between state and federal courts in determining what is or isn't constitutional about the new maps.
Another possible result: voter uncertainty and election delays for 2012.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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