North Carolina has one of the most aggressive gerrymanders in the country. In 2016, President-elect Trump beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the state by less than four points, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper won a narrow victory over Republican incumbent Pat McCrory. Yet Republicans enjoy supermajorities in the state house (72–45) and the state senate (34–15) despite the fact that the state’s electorate is fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Last August, moreover, a federal court determined that the state’s legislative maps unconstitutionally pack black voters into a relatively small number of districts, reducing the impact of those voters in the process. The court ordered the state legislature to draw new maps by mid-March, and to hold a special election in the fall of this year in any districts that were redrawn under the new maps. With this order, the Democratic Party had a shot at breaking up the GOP’s supermajorities before the regular election in 2018.
Except that now those elections have been, at the very least, postponed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
In a single-paragraph order handed down Tuesday, the justices granted a stay of the lower court’s decision setting the time frame for a new election. It’s a temporary order, which shall only “remain in effect pending this Court’s action on the appeal,” so it is possible that the lower court’s decision will ultimately be affirmed and a special election will ultimately be held.
Nevertheless, Tuesday’s order is both a victory for the GOP and a potential window into how the Court may resolve the case.
North Carolina v. Covington falls within the Supreme Court’s mandatory jurisdiction, meaning that the justices cannot simply ignore the case and allow the lower court’s decision to stand without any action whatsoever. They do, however, have the option of affirming the lower court’s decision without comment.
The fact that the Supreme Court issued a stay suggests that the justices view this case as significantly weighty that they do not want a special election to be held until after they’ve had the opportunity to review the case. That does not mean that North Carolina’s maps will ultimately be upheld, but it most likely extends the period of Republican supermajority rule even if the justices ultimately conclude that the maps are illegal.