Stephenson v. Bartlett

Decision Date30 April 2002
Docket NumberNo. 94PA02.,94PA02.
Citation562 S.E.2d 377,355 N.C. 354
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesAshley STEPHENSON, individually, and as a resident and registered voter of Beaufort County, North Carolina; Leo Daughtry, individually, and as Representative for the 95th District, North Carolina House of Representatives; Patrick Ballantine, individually, and as Senator for the 4th District, North Carolina Senate; Art Pope, individually, and as Representative for the 61st District, North Carolina House of Representatives; and Bill Cobey, individually, and as Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly situated v. Gary BARTLETT, as Executive Director of the State Board of Elections; Larry Leake, Robert B. Cordle, Genevieve C. Sims, Lorraine G. Shinn, and Charles Winfree, as members of the State Board of Elections; James B. Black, as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives; Marc Basnight, as President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate; Michael Easley, as Governor of the State of North Carolina; and Roy Cooper, as Attorney General of the State of North Carolina.

Maupin Taylor & Ellis, P.A., by Thomas A. Farr and James C. Dever, III, Raleigh, for plaintiff-appellees.

Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by Edwin M. Speas, Jr., Chief Deputy Attorney General, and Tiare B. Smiley, Norma S. Harrell, Alexander McC. Peters, and Susan K. Nichols, Special Deputy Attorneys General, for defendant-appellants; and Jenner & Block, LLC, by Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., pro hac vice, co-counsel, Washington, D.C., for defendant-appellants Marc Basnight and James B. Black.

Patterson, Harkavy & Lawrence, L.L.P., by Burton Craige; and Neill S. Fuleihan, Brevard, on behalf of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, amicus curiae.

Ferguson Stein Chambers Wallas Adkins Gresham & Sumter PA, by Adam Stein and Julius L. Chambers, Chapel Hill, on behalf of the North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, amicus curiae.

Smith Moore LLP, by James G. Exum, Jr., and Julia F. Youngman, on behalf of Wilbur Gulley, individually and as Senator for the 13th District, N.C. Senate; Luther Jordan, individually and as Senator for the 7th District, N.C. Senate, and as Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus; David Weinstein, individually and as Senator for the 30th District, N.C. Senate, and as Co-Chairman of the Senate Rural Development Committee; Edd Nye, individually and as Representative for the 96th District, N.C. House of Representatives; and Victor Farah, individually and as resident and registered voter of Wake County, and as candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives, and on behalf of themselves, their constituents, and all other persons similarly situated, amici curiae.

Everett and Everett, by Robinson O. Everett and Seth A. Neyhart, on behalf of Americans for the Defense of Constitutional Rights, Inc., amicus curiae.

Hunter, Elam, Benjamin & Tomlin, PLLC, by Robert N. Hunter, Jr., on behalf of Lee McLean Foreman, Marcus D. Kindley, William W. Peaslee, Kenneth Ray Moore, Robert Brewington, William Franklin Mitchell, Kellon D. McMillian, Cecelia Ferguson Taylor, Gilbert Parker, and Henry McKoy, amici curiae.

Collier Shannon Scott, PLLC, by Scott A. Sinder, pro hac vice; and Coats & Bennett, PLLC, by Anthony Biller, Cary, on behalf of the DKT Liberty Project and the Center for Voting and Democracy, amici curiae.

Pender County, by Carl W. Thurman III, Pender County Attorney, amicus curiae.

LAKE, Chief Justice.

The instant action presents a state law question of first impression for this Court. The case arises from a challenge to the state legislative redistricting plans adopted by the General Assembly in November 2001, upon the basis that these plans violate provisions of the North Carolina Constitution (the State Constitution).1

Plaintiffs, citizens and registered voters in North Carolina, filed suit on 13 November 2001 contending that, under Article II, Sections 3(3) and 5(3) of the State Constitution, collectively referred to as the "Whole-County Provisions" (the WCP), the General Assembly may not divide counties in creating Senate and House of Representative districts except to the extent necessary to comply with federal law. On 19 November 2001, defendants removed this case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. On 20 December 2001, the District Court remanded the case. Stephenson v. Bartlett, 180 F.Supp.2d 779 (E.D.N.C.2001). In its order of remand, the District Court stated, among other things, that the redistricting process was a matter primarily within the province of the states, that plaintiffs had challenged the 2001 legislative redistricting plans solely on the basis of state constitutional provisions, that the complaint "only raises issues of state law," and that defendants' removal of this suit from state court was therefore inappropriate. Id. at 782-83, 786. Defendants subsequently filed a notice of appeal from the District Court's order with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit denied defendants' motion to stay the District Court's order of remand.

On 20 February 2002, the trial court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the ground that the 2001 legislative redistricting plans violate the State Constitution. That same day, the trial court entered a remedial order granting both declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to Rules 57 and 65 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. The order of the trial court provided in pertinent part:

1. Article I, Section 3 of the North Carolina Constitution provides that every right under North Carolina law "should be exercised in pursuance of laws and consistently with the Constitution of the United States." Article I, Section 5 provides that "no law or ordinance of the State in contravention or subversion" of the United States Constitution "can have any lasting force and effect." ... [T]he Court concludes that Article I, Sections 2, 3, and 5, require that the North Carolina Constitution should be harmonized with any applicable provisions of federal law, so as to avoid any conflict between the North Carolina Constitution and federal law.
2. Under a harmonized interpretation of Article I, Sections 2, 3, and 5 and Article II, Sections 3(3) and 5(3), the North Carolina Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from dividing counties into separate Senate and House districts, except to the extent that counties must be divided to comply with federal law. Thus, the General Assembly must preserve county lines to the maximum extent possible, except to the extent counties must be divided to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and to comply with the U.S. Constitution, including the federal one-person one-vote requirements....
3. The [2001 legislative redistricting plans] divide counties more than are necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act or the federal one-person one-vote requirements, and therefore violate the North Carolina Constitution.

The trial court permanently enjoined defendants "from conducting any primary or general election under the 1992 Senate and House Plans, the [2001 legislative redistricting plans], or any other plans that divide counties for any reason other than: (a) the creation of districts needed to obtain preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; (b) the creation of districts needed to avoid liability under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; (c) maintaining the population deviation range between districts within the limits approved [by the United States Supreme Court] for jurisdictions that prohibit the division of counties into separate legislative districts; and (d) any other divisions that are necessary to comply with the United State[s] Constitution and applicable federal law." Finally, the trial court stayed its order and provided that, in fairness to all parties, the voters, and the taxpayers, the present constitutional issues and the outcome of plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief for the 2002 election cycle should be decided by this Court.

On 26 February 2002, this Court allowed plaintiffs' "Emergency Petition for Suspension of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure," thus setting the stage for expedited direct review by this Court. Thereafter, defendants filed notice of appeal in this Court. By unanimous order dated 7 March 2002, this Court enjoined defendants from conducting primary elections on 7 May 2002 for the office of Senator in the North Carolina Senate and the office of Representative in the North Carolina House of Representatives, pending determination of the constitutional issue by this Court.

On 21 March 2000, the United States Census Bureau released the 2000 population data for the State of North Carolina. From 1990 to 2000, the state's population increased by 21.4 percent, to 8,049,313. Pursuant to its constitutional mandate to redistrict and reapportion legislative districts after each decennial census, N.C. Const. art. II, §§ 3, 5, on 13 November 2001, the General Assembly enacted redistricting and reapportionment plans for the Senate and the House of Representatives, Acts of Nov. 13, 2001, chs. 458, 459, 2001 N.C. Sess. Laws ___, ___. The 2001 Senate Plan divides 51 of 100 counties into different districts (2001 Senate map, Attachment A). Ch. 458, 2001 N.C. Sess. Laws ___. The 2001 House Plan divides 70 of 100 counties into different districts (2001 House map, Attachment B). Ch. 459, 2001 N.C. Sess. Laws ___. Under the 2001 Senate Plan, a number of counties are divided into as many as four to six districts, and under the 2001 House Plan, a number of counties are divided into as many as four to thirteen districts. Chs. 458, 459, 2001 N.C. Sess. Laws ___, ___.

For instance, Pender County has a 2000...

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