RALEIGH — The North Carolina Supreme Court ordered all of the state’s scheduled March 8 primaries to move to May 17, 2022, last week. The delay will allow an evidentiary hearing to be held by a three-judge panel on the multiple lawsuits filed in connection with the state redistricting maps.
The order — which followed action earlier in the week from the N.C. Court of Appeals that first delayed filing in races for U.S. House of Representatives, N.C. Senate and N.C. House of Representatives — requires the three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court to rule on the cases by Jan. 11, 2022.
Notably, the order moved all of the scheduled primaries to May, not just those conducted under new districts following the General Assembly’s redistricting session last month.
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), a co-chair of the Senate Elections Committee, said in response to the court’s order, “The court didn’t even articulate a legal or factual basis for suspending elections. The Democrats on the Supreme Court want districts that elect more Democrats, so they’re blocking every election in the state until they get their way.”
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) said, “To throw this process into chaos in the middle of filing leaves North Carolinians with uncertainty ahead of the election. Despite this delay, we are confident that we will prevail at trial and our maps will stand.”
The state’s top elected Democrats — Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein — were pleased with the outcome.
The two filed an amicus brief with the top court before the order in support of the plaintiffs’ case, urging the justices to hear and decide the cases.
“Voters are stripped of their voices by technologically diabolical and unconstitutionally partisan districts,” Cooper said at the time.
Following the order, the governor said, “Today’s order restores faith in the rule of law and it is necessary for the Court to rule on the constitutionality of these unfair districts before the next election.”
“In a representative democracy, the voters choose their representatives,” said Attorney General Stein. “Partisan gerrymandering distorts our democracy by discriminating against certain voters based on their political views and allowing representatives to cling to power no matter the will of the voters.”
The order makes clear that all candidates who filed for office Monday through Wednesday will not need to file again. The court authorized the trial court to make any administrative decisions necessary in regards to timing, filing, and withdrawal of candidates.
The decision capped a tumultuous three days both in Raleigh and around the state.
In an order posted minutes before the start of filing on Monday, Dec. 6, an expedited review conducted by a secret panel of COA judges stopped filing for races conducted with the new district lines.
By Monday evening, an en banc review, which comprises all 15 judges on the appellate court, reversed the earlier decision. The full COA consists of 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, over 1,100 candidates had filed for office from U.S. Senate down to local town council across the state.
Yet by Wednesday evening, the Supreme Court’s order halted all filing, saying those who had their paperwork accepted would not need to file again and authorized the trial court to make any administrative decisions necessary for the resumption of the filing period.
The two-month delay created additional uncertainty in the Republican U.S. Senate primary and whether former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker would back out of the race and seek a return to the U.S. House in a Triad-centered district without an incumbent.
In an Associated Press interview, Walker acknowledged he was thinking of switching but brushed off earlier reports that he had already made the decision to switch.
“Even before I had walked back in the meeting with President Trump, some of the reports were already saying that we had made a decision to do all this just wasn’t factual,” Walker said.
Should Walker indeed leave the Senate race, it would set up one-on-one matchups in both the Republican and Democratic fields.
Following the retirement of longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Erica Smith jumped into that race, and subsequently endorsed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley over Mecklenburg-area state Sen. Jeff Jackson.
The impetus for Walker’s possible departure from the Senate primary would be to allow three-term U.S. Rep. Ted Budd to compete against former Gov. Pat McCrory directly.
Budd, who was endorsed in June by former President Donald Trump, has methodically closed the gap with McCrory, with most recent polling showing just a three-point deficit between the two.