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GREENSBORO — Republican legislative defendants have formally petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal of a recent ruling that found North Carolina’s current congressional districts unconstitutional.

Lawyers for current and former leaders in the GOP-controlled General Assembly are challenging a Sept. 12 ruling by a Greensboro-based, three-judge panel that the current map stems from unlawful gerrymandering to favor Republican candidates.

The panel of judges in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina was divided in its decision last month, with two judges in full agreement that the current map is unconstitutional and a third consenting only in part.

Their order held that it was too late to redraw the state’s 13 congressional districts before next month’s general election but ruled that the current map could not be used after that.

The local judicial panel’s decision came in a lawsuit brought by the advocacy group Common Cause, more than a dozen voters and the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Representing several current and former Republican legislators who played key roles in the redistricting process two years ago, Raleigh attorney Phillip Strach and Washington lawyer Paul Clement said in papers filed Monday that the high court should reverse the Middle District ruling because the U.S. Constitution does not define or prohibit partisanship in drawing electoral maps.

The judicial branch has no authority to make such determinations, the lawyers said in their “jurisdictional statement” asking the Supreme Court to take the case for additional review.

Defendants in the case include N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden.

The case already has been heard twice by the high court on other issues and sent back to the local panel for reconsideration.

Critics of gerrymandering see it as a potential landmark case in setting limits on the role partisan considerations can play in the redistricting process.

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Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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