United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
Jr., Circuit Judge, wrote the opinion, in which Britt, Senior
District Judge, joined:
these consolidated cases, two groups of
Plaintiffs allege that North Carolina's 2016
Congressional Redistricting Plan (the “Plan”)
constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in
violation of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment, and, in the case of the Common
Cause Plaintiffs, Article I, sections 2 and 4 of the
Constitution. Before the Court is Legislative
Defendants' motion to stay Plaintiffs' action
pending the Supreme Court of the United States' final
decision in Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161
(calendared for oral argument on Oct. 3, 2017). The trial
court in Whitford held that a Wisconsin state
legislative redistricting plan was an unconstitutional
partisan gerrymander in violation of the First Amendment and
the Equal Protection Clause. Whitford v. Gill, 218
F.Supp.3d 837, 884 (W.D. Wis. 2016).
careful consideration of the parties' briefing and
arguments, we conclude that Legislative Defendants have
failed to put forward the “clear and convincing
circumstances outweighing potential harm” to Plaintiffs
necessary to justify staying these proceedings. Williford
v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 715 F.2d 124, 127 (4th
Cir. 1983). Therefore, and as further explained below, we
exercise our discretion to deny Legislative Defendants'
motion to stay.
February 5, 2016, a panel of three federal judges held that
two districts established by North Carolina's 2011
decennial congressional redistricting plan constituted racial
gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Harris v. McCrory, 159 F.Supp.3d 600, 604 (M.D. N.C.
2016), aff'd sub nom. Cooper v. Harris, 137
S.Ct. 1455 (2017). To remedy this constitutional violation,
the Harris Court established a two-week deadline for
the North Carolina General Assembly to draw new congressional
districts to be used in future elections. Id. at
627. Thereafter, the General Assembly adopted the Plan at
issue in this case. According to Plaintiffs, the Plan relied
on “political data”-data “reflect[ing]
whether the people . . . had voted in favor of Democratic or
Republican candidates for certain state-wide
elections”-to draw districts intended to maximize the
number of Republican members of North Carolina's
congressional delegation. (Doc. 12, ¶ 18.)
Cause Plaintiffs filed their complaint challenging the new
districts as partisan gerrymanders on August 5, 2016, and
League Plaintiffs filed their action on September 22, 2016.
Collectively, Plaintiffs allege that the Plan violates four
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, by
diluting the electoral strength of individuals who voted
against Republican candidates (Doc. 41, ¶¶ 69-80;
Doc. 12, ¶¶ 39-45);
First Amendment, by burdening and retaliating against
individuals who voted against Republican candidates on the
basis of their political beliefs and association (Doc. 41,
¶¶ 81-83; Doc. 12, ¶¶ 25-38);
Article I, section 2, which provides that members of the
House of Representatives will be chosen “by the People
of the several States, ” by usurping the right of the
voters to select their preferred candidates for Congress
(Doc. 12, ¶¶ 46-49); and
Article I, section 4, which provides that “the times,
places and manner of holding elections of . . .
Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the
Legislature thereof” (Doc. 12, ¶¶ 50-54).
February 21, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss
Plaintiffs' actions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). (Doc. Nos. 45, 46.) In an order and accompanying
memorandum opinion issued on March 3, 2017, this Court denied
Defendants' motion to dismiss. Common Cause v.
Rucho, ___ F.Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 876307, at *1 (M.D.
N.C. Mar. 3, 2017).
Court established an April 28, 2017, deadline for the parties
to complete discovery and scheduled a bench trial for the
week of June 26, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 47, 53.) Pursuant to that
order, the parties engaged in extensive fact and expert
discovery, which involved the production of documents, the
propounding and answering of interrogatories, the preparation
and submission of a number of expert reports, and numerous
depositions. On May 30, 2017, the parties filed their final
pretrial disclosures. (Doc. Nos. 54-58.) One week later, the
parties submitted their proposed findings of fact and
conclusions of law and pretrial briefs. (Doc. Nos. 60-62,
64.) On June 19, 2017, League Plaintiffs moved in
limine to exclude the testimony of one of
Defendants' proffered expert witnesses and submitted
substantial briefing and supporting materials in support of
that motion. (Doc. Nos. 71, 72.) That same day, this Court
held a pre-trial hearing. At the hearing, this Court, on its
own motion, continued the trial indefinitely.
26, 2017, Legislative Defendants filed the present motion to
stay further proceedings pending the Supreme Court's
final decision in Gill. (Docs. 74, 75.) Plaintiffs
opposed Legislative Defendants' motion, and Board
Defendants and Defendant State of North Carolina took no
position. (Docs. 78, 79.) On August 29, 2017, having lifted
the continuance, this Court received argument from the
parties on Legislative Defendants' stay ...