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The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that had directed North Carolina legislators to redraw state legislative districts by March 15 and hold special elections within the altered districts this fall.

The court order granted the request of North Carolina Republican legislative leaders and state officials to delay November's ruling by a three-judge panel. The panel last summer threw out 28 state House and Senate districts as illegal racial gerrymanders.

The Supreme Court says its order will stay in place at least until the court decides whether to hear an appeal the state previously requested. If the justices take up the case, the stay will remain in effect pending a decision.

If no special elections are required, the next round of General Assembly elections would be held in late 2018. The GOP currently holds majorities large enough to override any vetoes by newly installed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Special elections could give Democrats a chance to narrow those margins and give leverage to Cooper.

The delay comes in an atmosphere of intense political division in the state: On Tuesday, the governor expanded the scope of a lawsuit he previously had filed seeking to overturn laws GOP legislators passed to limit his powers just two weeks before he was sworn in.

The voters who sued over the maps alleged that Republican lawmakers drew the boundaries to create more predominantly white and Republican districts by effectively cramming black voters into adjacent Democratic districts. GOP lawmakers said the majority-black districts were drawn to protect them against lawsuits alleging they violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act.


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