- Associated Press - Thursday, June 8, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Republican legislative leaders refused Thursday to hold a special redistricting session demanded by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, calling his decree faulty and unconstitutional.

Cooper had signed a proclamation Wednesday calling for the General Assembly to convene Thursday afternoon for the purpose of re-drawing state House and Senate maps.

GOP leaders and declared the “extra session” unnecessary because the General Assembly’s work session, which began in January, is still going on and there was no “extraordinary occasion” to call one, which would have run simultaneously. In formal protests on the House and Senate floors, they also argued Cooper sought only cursory advice from other statewide elected officials before issuing the formal proclamation.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the Senate’s presiding officer, directed staff to withdraw the agenda for the special session. Democrats on the House and Senate floor tried to stop the cancellation, which hasn’t occurred in at least several decades.

The new governor is trying to push GOP lawmakers to act quickly after the U.S. Supreme Court this week upheld a lower court decision striking down nearly 30 House and Senate districts as illegal racial gerrymanders.

Citing a state law, Cooper argues that if lawmakers don’t act within 14 days, three federal judges could draw new maps for the legislature. By acting quickly, legislators might enable the judges to order special legislative elections under new maps this fall, rather than wait until the next regular cycle in November 2018, which the GOP prefers.

Republicans say the Supreme Court still must formally return the case to the three judges and those judges must weigh in on how new boundaries should be drawn before they can act.

“There’s no need to have a special session. We’re here, we’re conducting business,” Moore told reporters, adding that “we will deal with redistricting once we have guidance that we need from the federal court.”

Cooper and his Democratic allies say GOP leaders still remain under a court order to draw new maps and the General Assembly should act now.

The Republican-dominated “legislature is thumbing its nose at the North Carolina Constitution as well as the U.S. Supreme Court,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a release. It’s unclear what step, if any, the governor will now take. The special session marks the latest friction between Cooper and Republican lawmakers since he narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory in November.

The current maps, drawn in 2011 and used first in the 2012 elections, helped Republicans pad their majorities in the House and Senate, allowing them to more easily pass tax cuts, abortion restrictions and taxpayer funded scholarships for students to attend private schools.

Democrats, who in 2010 were pushed out of power in both chambers for the first time in more than 100 years, originally sued over the current maps in late 2011. Democrats need to gain another three House seats or six Senate seats to eliminate the Republicans’ veto-proof majorities, providing them a tool to thwart the GOP agenda.

“It’s a game of chicken,” said Meredith College political science professor David McLennan in an interview. “They’re fighting because it matters a lot … how much more gamesmanship will occur before we get a resolution - that’s the question.”

Redistricting lawsuits have worked their way through the state and federal courts. A three-judge federal panel threw out 19 House and nine Senate districts last August, agreeing with voters who sued that Republican mapmakers needlessly created too many majority-black districts, which helped boost white, GOP-leaning majorities in the surrounding districts.

Attorneys for the voters who successfully sued filed motions in federal court Thursday asking the judges to demand maps quickly from legislators and expedite decisions on special elections this fall.

“We’ve lived with these districts for six years,” added Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham County Democrat, said in defending Cooper’s proclamation. “We shouldn’t wait a single day.”

But Republican Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County said derailing a governor’s call for a special session complied with the status of the pending litigation and wasn’t taken lightly: “We need to be serious about what the Constitution requires.”

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