The North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that the state's March 2022 primary be delayed until May 17 so it can settle two lawsuits challenging Republican-drawn maps for Congress and the state's legislature.
The court, which has a Democratic majority, said that there is a "need for urgency in reaching a final resolution." It said it would issue a final ruling on the maps on or before January 11, 2022.
The state's current congressional delegation has eight Republicans and five Democrats. The state gained an additional seat after the 2020 census for a new total of 14.
The new congressional map approved last month by the Republican legislature gives the GOP the clear advantage in nine of the 14 seats. Democrats are heavily favored in three seats and two are toss-ups.
Democrats have said a fair map would give them the opportunity to win seven or six seats. In most federal races, Democrats receive a little less than half of the vote statewide. Former President Donald Trump won the state in 2020 with 49.9% to President Joe Biden's 48.6%.
The nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project has rated the recent North Carolina congressional map an "F" for fairness, calling it one of the most gerrymandered maps in the nation, along with a Republican-drawn congressional map in Texas and a Democratic-drawn map in Illinois.
In making the congressional map, North Carolina Republicans divided the state's largest urban counties to dilute the strength of Democratic voters. Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, was divided into three congressional districts, as was Wake County, where Raleigh is. Those counties could have been split into only two districts each.
Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Manning's seat was wiped out with the new map when the GOP split her home county into three Republican-leaning districts.
Another Democratic member of Congress, G.K. Butterfield, announced recently he would not run for re-election. He blamed the new map, which added more Republicans to his mostly rural district in the northeast part of the state.
North Carolina's U.S. Senate race is expected to be one of the most contested in the nation. Republican Richard Burr isn't running for re-election and Democrats are hoping to flip that seat to keep control of the chamber.
Last decade, North Carolina was one of the most litigated states in the nation over its congressional and state legislative maps.
Democrats had held power for decades and had often drawn their own gerrymandered maps. When Republicans won legislative majorities in 2010, they then drew maps to consolidate their power.
In 2016, former North Carolina Republican state Rep. David Lewis helped draw a new congressional map after a previous map had been struck down for being racially gerrymandered.
"I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law," Lewis said. "I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it's possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats."
Lewis was a defendant in a 2019 gerrymandering case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices in that case said that political gerrymandering was not unconstitutional and left the issue up to states.
A North Carolina court then overturned the state's 11-3 congressional map and ordered Republicans to draw a new map, which resulted in the current 8-5 Republican advantage.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was not able to veto the maps under state law.
In a statement, Cooper said the Wednesday 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."