Lawmakers call redistricting lawsuit ‘without question premature,’ ask court to wait to act

South Carolina’s current Senate district map, pictured during a Senate Redistricting...
South Carolina’s current Senate district map, pictured during a Senate Redistricting Subcommittee meeting on July 20, 2021.(Live 5 News)
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 7:49 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 22, 2021 at 4:02 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Members of South Carolina’s House of Representatives are asking that a lawsuit filed against them and others regarding the state’s redistricting process be put on hold, calling the legal challenge “without question premature.”

Three House Republicans — Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, House Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Murphy, and House Elections Law Subcommittee Chair Wallace Jordan — filed a response Tuesday to the lawsuit brought about last week by the ACLU of South Carolina, on behalf of the South Carolina NAACP and a Hilton Head resident.

In it, the plaintiffs are asking a judge to order lawmakers “to abide by a concrete timeline that will allow sufficient time for public notice, input, and the resolution of any litigation, and result in finalized, legally compliant maps well in advance of critical deadlines, including the March 30, 2022 candidate declaration deadline.”

The redistricting process was initially delayed because data from the U.S. Census, which is used to determine districts, was released later than usual because of the pandemic.

Plaintiffs are claiming they and other South Carolinians “face a substantial and imminent risk” this redistricting process will not be done in time for those deadlines, and they argue if this happens, it would violate their constitutional rights.

The three House defendants wrote in response, “Plaintiffs’ motion — just like its underlying action — is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” contending their challenge is against maps the lawmakers say will not be used in future elections, as they are working through the redistricting process now to apply those updated maps starting with 2022 races.

In South Carolina, state lawmakers are tasked with redrawing district lines — determining who represents each South Carolinians at the State House and on Capitol Hill — to balance out populations.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the populations in each district within a state are required by the U.S. Constitution to be roughly equal, so every person’s vote matters equally.

But because of population changes over the last decade, the currently Congressional and legislative districts are not all equal.

For example, new census data shows the First Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Nancy Mace, now has more than 100,000 people more than the Sixth Congressional District, represented by Democrat Jim Clyburn.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claimed the delay is hindering their abilities to participate in the political process, writing South Carolinians “do not know whether their current representatives will be eligible to run in their districts in the upcoming election,” that “potential candidates for legislative seats also do not know the districts they may run in,” and “every day without new maps is a day in which candidates and interested organizations, such as Plaintiff South Carolina NAACP and its volunteers, cannot be contacting and educating the electorate in their districts.”

But the defendants wrote in their response, “Any suggestion that the 2011 plan is intended to (or will likely) govern the 2022 election cycle is knowingly false and, therefore, frivolous,” arguing there is no judicial precedent for the court to intervene in the ongoing redistricting process as the plaintiffs request.

On Thursday, the Senate Redistricting Subcommittee held a public hearing, during which members of the public could present new Senate maps they drew for lawmakers’ consideration. During the South Carolina NAACP’s presentation with the ACLU, South Carolina NAACP Conference President Brenda Murphy asked senators about the redistricting timeline.

“When does this subcommittee plan to propose its maps, and what steps, if any, is the Senate going to take to ensure that its timeline for considering and approving maps will be sufficient to allow litigation that may be filed to be fully resolved before the March 30, 2022, candidates filing deadline for the June 2022 partisan primaries?” Murphy said.

No senators directly answered Murphy’s questions about the timeline.

But the defendants’ lawsuit response contained letters that House Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Murphy sent to the NAACP’s Legal Defense & Education Fund, in response to inquiries from the group regarding the process.

In a letter dated Oct. 8, Murphy wrote that the draft maps might be available for public review and comment “hopefully by late November, 2021,” and said, “I understand that the full House may return for a special session to consider the redistricting plan at some point in December, 2021.”

South Carolina’s House and Senate leaders have not yet publicly announced any plans to reconvene for a special session.

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