Winston-Salem Journal: Ap

Nov 23, 9:53 PM EST

2 sides argue impact of redistricting lawsuit on primaries

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Attorneys representing the state and registered voters argued before a three-judge panel on Monday about the impact of a lawsuit filed over North Carolina's legislative district maps on the state's 2016 primaries.

The plaintiffs say the lines drawn by Republican lawmakers for nearly 30 House and Senate districts are illegal because they relied too much on race. They don't want the districts used in 2016 and want candidate filing delayed until updated boundaries are set.

Attorneys for the state say the judges should delay any decision until other redistricting litigation is resolved.

There are three pending redistricting cases. The boundaries have never been struck down and were used in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, went before the three judges to seek a preliminary injunction. She used a power-point presentation featuring maps and election results and a stack of documents to help present her case in the third-floor courtroom at the federal courthouse in downtown Greensboro.

"We think the use of these plans should be delayed until the constitutionality of these can be determined," Earls said.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder questioned Earls about the timing of the request, noting that the official filing period for candidates seeking legislative seats in North Carolina begins Dec. 1.

"A lot of water has gone over the dam in the last four years, and here you are at the 11th hour," Schroeder said.

Schroeder specifically noted that it took the plaintiffs five months to file a motion for an injunction. Earls told the judge that the decision on Alabama's congressional districts precipitated a new lawsuit being filed.

The state Supreme Court upheld North Carolina's congressional and legislative districts last December, but the U.S. Supreme Court told the state court to reconsider the districts in light of the Alabama case.

Earls responded that when the lawsuit was filed, they had no idea the General Assembly would vote to move the state's primaries from May to March. Earls said if the plaintiffs are successful in their motion, it's possible the primaries would be held next July.

In response, Senior Deputy Attorney General Alexander Peters told the court that delaying the primary would impact voter turnout. Peters also said the plaintiffs need to let state lawmakers know what they're seeking.

"The General Assembly needs to know what the criteria are and the plaintiffs haven't provided one," he said.

Peters also called the decision by the plaintiffs to file the lawsuit "strategic" and that their argument was the same one they made in 2011.

Schroeder, along with U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles and 4th Circuit Judge Jim Wynn Jr., didn't indicate when a ruling would be forthcoming.

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