(CN) – A three-judge federal court panel rejected a request Tuesday by Republican lawmakers in North Carolina for a stay of a ruling that found the state’s congressional district map unconstitutional.
In a 21-page order, U.S. District Judges W. Earl Britt, William Osteen and James Wynn said the lawmakers’ motion did not dispute the basis for the court’s earlier, unanimous decision to void the district map.
They also found that staying the ruling would “substantially injure” and “irreparably harm” the plaintiff voters in the case, and dismissed a claim by the GOP lawmakers that forcing them to rewrite a district map now would disrupt preparations for next November’s general election.
“Even if legislative defendants are entitled under state law to represent the state’s interests—again, an unsettled question of state law—the timeline for drawing a new districting plan established by this Court’s Order—which requires the General Assembly to adopt a new districting plan before the candidate filing period begins and months before both the primary and general elections—minimizes any harm to state interests,” the Per Curiam opinion states.
The Republicans, who have also appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, argued the court’s earlier ruling should be stayed pending the outcome of that proceeding and another gerrymandering case currently before the High Court.
But the panel said the current district map was an example of “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution” and they had little faith that the U.S. Supreme Court would side with the lawmakers.
“This Court rendered factual findings under multiple potential legal standards [making] it all the more likely that the Supreme Court will affirm this Court’s judgment,” the opinion states.
Litigation over the North Carolina’s congressional district map began in 2011 after voters complained the then-newly crafted district lines disenfranchised people based on race. The state legislature was forced to draw a new map in 2016, but that version was challenged on the grounds that it purposely disenfranchised Democrats and minorities.
Courts have consistently sided with the plaintiffs throughout the protracted dispute.
On Thursday, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin said in a statement that the latest ruling was a “major victory for those whose voices were silenced” by Republicans.
“Republicans have shown time and time again they are more interested in drawing themselves into power than representing the best interest of their constituents,” he said. “It’s time the General Assembly put partisanship aside and draw fair, non-partisan maps that give North Carolina voters a voice.”
A representative of the North Carolina GOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.