Lawsuit says South Carolina redistricting is taking too long
By Jeffrey Collins
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two civil rights groups are suing South Carolina, saying state lawmakers are taking too long to draw new maps for U.S. and state House districts.
Candidates are required to file to run for the 2022 races by the end of March, but time is running out for potential candidates to research the new districts and settle any lawsuits asking judges to decide if the new maps are fair, according to the suit. It was filed Tuesday by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The groups are asking a panel of three federal judges to set a specific timeline for maps to be drawn and approved and not allow any elections until the new districts get judicial approval.
The lawsuit said lawmakers should have kept to suggestions when they adjourned in June that there would be a special session in September or October to approve maps. Those plans became less firm as lawmakers dealt with the aftermath of a budget provision that prevented districts from passing mask requirements this school year.
Democratic lawmakers, along with Republican state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, state health officials,doctors, teachers and school administrators urged lawmakers to return and give districts flexibility on masks. Republican legislative leaders have refused. A federal judge has since suspended the provision after parents of medically fragile students sued the state.
South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler called for an Oct. 12 special session last month, but canceled it about a week later saying a committee working on the districts wouldn’t be finished in time.
House Speaker Jay Lucas said in September there wouldn’t be a special session before December to consider maps, if then.
“The Legislature’s decision to delay map making practically guarantees that the Legislature will not produce timely maps that meet constitutional and other requirements or follow a process that offers an opportunity for meaningful public consideration,” the lawsuit said.
Neither Peeler nor Lucas responded to the lawsuit Tuesday.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of the 2020 U.S. Census data used to draw the maps until August. In 2010, lawmakers received that information about five months earlier in the cycle.
The state is facing some deadlines. Candidates can start filing for the 2022 races on March 16, which is just nine weeks after the next time lawmakers are required to meet when the 2022 General Assembly’s session starts. Filing lasts for two weeks. The primaries are in June.
“The Legislature essentially skipped town without fulfilling its critical obligation of drawing new and fair maps,” ACLU attorney Somil Trivedi said in a statement. “The stakes are too high for lawmakers to be treating the public and the process with such little regard.”
The maps drawn by South Carolina lawmakers have been challenged in court each decade since 1970 and faced a long and significant challenge in each cycle except 2010.
“The state’s refusal to tell the public when it will reconvene to take up its obligation to redraw the lines and make it difficult, if not impossible, to resolve any court challenge before the consequential 2022 primaries is unacceptable,” NAACP Deputy Director of Litigation Leah Aden said.
In 1992, a judge required the state to delay filing until June and primaries until August after lawmakers failed to approve new maps from the 1990 Census.
The suit was filed on behalf of Taiwan Scott, a Black man whose family has lived on Hilton Head Island for seven generations,. He said in court papers that he and other voters deserve time to publicly comment on the proposed maps and study them at length before deciding whether to run for office or encourage certain people to run.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.