RALEIGH, N.C. — The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked special elections this year in North Carolina legislative districts that a lower court ruled were drawn to minimize the political statewide clout of African American voters.
Acting at the behest of the state's Republican lawmakers, the justices delayed new elections in at least 28 House and Senate districts while they decide whether to consider the GOP's effort to keep the districts intact, at least through 2018.
Special elections previously ordered for 2017 would give Democrats a chance to reduce Republicans' veto-proof majorities, which in turn could help newly elected Gov. Roy Cooper, already embroiled in a battle with the legislature over its efforts to reduce his powers.
The state also has been the scene of fierce political battles over voting rights. A case involving the design of two majority-black congressional districts is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court. And the state has asked the justices to reverse a lower court's decision striking down voting restrictions passed by Republicans, including a new photo ID requirement.
A three-judge trial court ruled last summer that the districts in question were improperly drawn with an emphasis on race. The state appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to hear the case.
Then the lower court ruled that special elections must be held this year -- a process the state called "the most extreme and intrusive remedy possible: partial invalidation of an election and imposition of a special election that overrides multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution."
None of the eight justices objected publicly Tuesday to the order temporarily blocking those elections. Opponents of the redrawn districts described the order as procedural, rather than substantive.
“Today’s action just puts everything on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the appeal of whether the district court was correct to order special elections in 2017," said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which has battled the legislature over the way districts were drawn. "We continue to trust that the district court’s ruling will be upheld, and new districts ultimately will be drawn that are not based on race.”