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Justice Scalia's Death Means Political Chaos in N.C., Political Scientist Says

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia makes it "very unlikely" the scheduled March 15 primary elections in North Carolina will occur, Duke political science professor Kerry Haynie says.

On Feb. 5, a three-judge federal court panel ruled North Carolina’s 1st and 12th U.S. congressional districts are unconstitutional because they were gerrymandered along racial lines, and the court ordered the N.C. General Assembly to redraw the districts within two weeks. The state filed an emergency appeal of this ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 8.

"That Justice Scalia has died before a decision on the appeal has been announced very likely means the General Assembly will be required to redraw new congressional districts and have them approved by the federal court before any election for Congress can take place in North Carolina,” says Haynie, an associate professor of political science and African and African-American Studies.   

“The state needs five justices to vote in favor of its appeal. Without Justice Scalia, the best possible outcome for the state is a 4-4 decision. In deadlocked decisions like this, the lower court ruling stands, which in this case means the state would be required to draw new U.S. congressional districts before congressional election primaries can proceed. Because it is unlikely the General Assembly can draw new districts in time for voters to become reasonably educated about them before the scheduled March 15th primary, it is likely the primary will be moved to the spring or summer.”

Haynie, whose research and teaching interests include race and ethnic politics, legislative processes and state-level politics, notes that any new congressional districts must be approved by the federal courts. "It is unlikely that a replacement for Justice Scalia will be confirmed before a new president is sworn in. This means that federal oversight decisions of new N.C. congressional districts will ultimately come from federal appellate courts. A majority of the judges in the relevant circuits were appointed by Democratic presidents. This suggests a Democratic advantage in the redistricting dispute.”

Haynie is the director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences, and co-director of the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity (DCORE).