Three days into candidate filing for the March 8 primary contests, the North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered that the election move back to May 17 amid lawsuits challenging three sets of heavily gerrymandered, Republican-drawn congressional and state legislative district maps. 

North Carolina State Board of Elections officials received the news just before the close of business Wednesday. Filing was halted Monday shortly before it was scheduled to open by a three-judge panel on the state’s Court of Appeals, but the order was reversed later that night by the full 15-member court. Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein then requested the state Supreme Court, which leans Democratic, take up the matter.

The previous injunction only suspended filing for candidates running for U.S. Congress or the state House and Senate. The latest stay halts filing in all contests.

Lawsuits from the North Carolina NAACP and Common Cause claim the maps were drawn without consulting racial data and will ultimately disenfranchise Black voters. The maps could give Republicans as much as an 11-3 majority in the U.S. House and open the possibility they’ll regain a supermajority in the state legislature. 

The order from the state Supreme Court states that delaying the primary was “in light of the great public interest … and urgency in reaching a final resolution on the merits at the earliest possible opportunity.” 

Candidates that have already filed for the primary will not have to refile for the May election. 

The court expects to have a final ruling on the matter by January 11, 2022. 

“Today’s order by the state Supreme Court restores faith in the rule of law and it is necessary for the Court to rule on the constitutionality of these unfair districts before the next election,” Governor Cooper said in a statement Wednesday night. 

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