LUMBERTON — The Democratic and Republican candidates vying to represent Robeson County in the U.S. House will continue to campaign even after a judicial ruling cast a cloud over the state’s congressional districts and the November general election.
“Right now, millions of people across North Carolina are not being heard because politicians rigged the system to benefit themselves at the cost of the people they’re supposed to represent. I applaud the court’s decision, which moves North Carolina one step closer towards fixing that. No matter what happens, I’m going to keep fighting for the people of North Carolina who deserve better,” Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. District 9 seat, said in a statement.
McCready, of Charlotte, was referring to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued Monday. The three-judge panel voted 2-1 to once again strike down North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional because Republicans drew them in 2016 with excessive partisanship. The Greensboro-based judges were acting on a U.S. Supreme Court order to re-examine the case.
“Nothing has changed for us. We’re moving forward with our aggressive grassroots campaign. Voters are responding well to our conservative message. We’re confident that we will win in November and Mark is looking forward to representing the 9th District in January,” Jason Williams, campaign manager for the Rev. Mark Harris, said in a statement.
Harris defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger in the May 8 Republican primary.
“The Democrats can’t win at the ballot box with their message so they’re trying to win in the courts,” Williams said. “This ruling by Democrat-appointed activist judges will cause massive voter confusion and lead to unnecessary taxpayer expense if additional elections are required. This is another example of judicial overreach by liberal judges that must stop.”
The chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party isn’t sure what will happen next or how the judicial ruling will affect the coming election.
“It is unclear at this point,” Phillip Stephens said Tuesday.
But, if even one district is redrawn, all will be affected because neighboring districts’ lines will be changed, he said. It’s a domino effect.
“To the point of its effects, no one knows,” he said. “So our operating policy is that at this point this is a court matter, and not an operational issue. That means we are continuing operations as usual.”
Republican lawmakers plan to continue the legal fight, according to a news release from N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger.
“State legislative leaders expect to pursue a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court,” the news release reads in part.
In their joint statement, Moore and Berger called Monday’s ruling “unprecedented.” It forecasts the cancellation of North Carolina’s congressional elections and the invalidation of primary results. The ruling, unless stopped, would throw the state’s electoral system into chaos and leave voters unsure about who represents them, what candidates they can choose, and when they’re permitted to decide on their federal representation.
The ruling could make it very difficult to get congressional delegates seated in time for the start of the 116th Congress, the lawmakers say.
The Appeals Court judges also raised in their ruling the possibility of directing the GOP-dominated General Assembly to redraw the maps by mid-September so they could be in effect for the fall elections, or getting an outside expert to do so.
“In such circumstances, we decline to rule out the possibility that the state should be enjoined from conducting any further congressional elections using the 2016 plan,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn wrote in the majority opinion.
Wynn asked lawyers in the case to weigh in by Friday about what should happen next.
“What the court suggests is simply impossible,” the lawmakers’ release reads in part. “I’m not aware of any other time in the history of our country that a state’s congressional delegation could not be seated, and the result would be unmitigated chaos and irreparable voter confusion. The Supreme Court must step in to correct this disastrous decision.”
In their release, Moore and Berger state that the judicial ruling could lead to the voiding of the May primary results and the cancellation of the November election for Congress.
“Such an action would irreparably disrupt campaigns from both major parties across the state that have been organizing, raising money and trying to win over voters,” the release reads in part.
The lawmakers cite an affidavit by Kim Strach, N.C. Board of Elections executive director, in which Strach says the state “cannot accommodate the court’s proposed action.”
“The earliest a new election could be scheduled in accordance with normal procedure would mean that North Carolinians would not be able to elect representatives to the 116th Congress until after that Congress was seated,” Moore and Berger say in their joint statement.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.