RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina legislative leaders unveiled Friday a speedy schedule to redraw congressional boundaries should the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to block a lower-court decision requiring a new map be approved by next week.
A special redistricting committee tasked with drawing new boundaries scheduled six public hearings Monday across the state for comments on what the lines should look like in light of last week's ruling striking down the 1st and 12th Congressional Districts as illegal gerrymanders.
The committee would meet together in Raleigh on Tuesday and Wednesday, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters. Gov. Pat McCrory then would be asked to call the entire legislature back to Raleigh next Thursday to vote on boundaries if necessary, said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, a committee co-chairman. The legislature currently isn't formally in session.
"We've been given a very compressed deadline, where we essentially have a week to do what normally would take months," Moore said.
The schedule is necessary because a three-judge panel ordered a new map by Feb. 19. GOP leaders say the districts are legal and should be used in the March 15 primary, but they needed a safeguard plan for a new map if the Supreme Court doesn't step in. Chief Justice John Roberts asked attorneys for the voters who sued over the districts to respond to the state's emergency stay request by this coming Tuesday.
Lewis and co-chairman Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said they remain confident the Supreme Court will block the order from taking effect. An updated map wouldn't be acted upon if the stay is granted.
But, they said in a statement, "we are being forced to hope for the best but prepare for the worst."
The federal judges ruled Republican lawmakers wrongly used racial considerations as the predominant factor in drawing the two districts in 2011.
They created majority black districts even when voters in both districts had been electing black representatives when the black voting-age population was less than 50 percent. Republican lawmakers said the makeup of the districts was based on other considerations — partisan advantage for Republicans in areas surrounding the 12th and avoiding legal challenges under the federal Voting Right Act in the 1st.
In their stay request, the state's attorneys said requiring new boundaries so quickly would be difficult because the lower court panel provided no guidance to lawmakers on how to draw them.
"We're still trying to digest what the judges want us to do," Lewis told reporters. "We're hoping that input from the public will help shed light onto what they expect us to do."
The Monday morning hearings would be held at a General Assembly office building in Raleigh, along with at community college or university campuses in Greensboro, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Wilmington and Asheville.
Some of these locations aren't within the 1st District, which covers all or portions of 24 counties in eastern North Carolina or the 12th, which covers portions of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Charlotte, with the rest largely following Interstate 85 in between. But any adjustments could cause a ripple effect to adjoining districts.
"When you move one piece, other pieces will move," Lewis said.
The state Supreme Court has upheld twice both congressional and General Assembly districts. The boundaries have helped the GOP expand its state House and Senate majorities and give Republicans 10 of the 13 seats in North Carolina's congressional delegation.
Critics say mapmakers packed black voters into the 1st and 12th to make adjoining districts more Republican.