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This article from NBC says this (emphasis mine):

A three-judge panel of state judges issued an order Monday barring state officials from using the current map for the coming elections, including the March presidential primary. The panel stopped short of ordering the legislature to draw new maps but said disruptions could be avoided "should the General Assembly, on its own initiative, act immediately and will all due haste to enact new congressional districts."

What is the distinction here? What does it mean that they didn't tell the assembly to redraw maps, but they also threw them out?

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What does it mean that North Carolina's maps were thrown out but new ones weren't ordered drawn?

It means that until the legislature redraws the Congressional districts to satisfy the court's requirements, there will be delays in the 2020 elections for Congressional seats.

This is a rather detailed article from the local newspaper, The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC. New maps ordered for NC 2020 congressional races, in win for Democrats, OCTOBER 28, 2019.

Monday’s ruling, a preliminary injunction, said the state may not hold any elections for Congress using the current maps passed in 2016. Those maps replaced a different set of maps from 2011, also drawn by the Republican-led legislature, which were struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. The judges ruled that if there aren’t new maps in time for the primary elections on March 3 then they could delay all or some of the primaries until later in 2020.

Candidate filing deadlines for the 2020 primaries are in December, so the legislature has just weeks to act if it wants to avoid delaying the elections — unless lawmakers decide to fight the decision instead, which they can also do.

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    I presume that filing requires the district shape to be finalised, as there are residency requirements? Rather than just being able to put a candidate against a number and then sort out where the district is later? – Jontia Oct 29 '19 at 13:05
  • @Jontia - It's complicated! Technically, residency requirements are established by the Constitution and Federal law. Districts are drawn by the state. Therefore, it is supposed to be that districts are drawn and numbered, a candidate files for that district, and, if necessary, moves to that district. Normally, the district lines are known well in advance of filing. – Rick Smith Oct 29 '19 at 14:14
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    @Jontia - Every ten years, some incumbents are faced with competing for the same district. One may move to compete in a different district. (I am aware of a case, locally, in 2012, as a result of redistricting from the 2010 census.) However, I have read of cases where the state drew district lines to prevent two favored incumbents from competing. That seems to qualify as gerrymandering. – Rick Smith Oct 29 '19 at 14:15
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This ruling is a preliminary injunction, not a final ruling on the case. In other words, the judges' ruling prevents North Carolina from using the maps to hold elections, but is not a ruling throwing them out (which cannot happen without a trial). From AP news

The panel of three Superior Court judges issued a preliminary injunction preventing elections under the district lines, starting with the March 3 primary.

In the ruling Monday, the judges — Paul Ridgeway, Alma Hinton and Joseph Crosswhite — agreed that “there is a substantial likelihood that plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of this action by showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the 2016 congressional districts are extreme partisan gerrymanders” in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.

It's not clear that there's any practical distinction here, however. The preliminary injunction prevents the state from holding elections using the 2016 maps, which means that the net effect is that the state legislature will have to redraw them before Dec 15, when the deadline for setting elections hits.

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  • Is the net effect comment based on the likelihood of a trail finishing before Dec 15 being basically nil? – Jontia Oct 29 '19 at 16:00
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    @Jontia They have about 45 days to redraw the district maps AND have the courts sign off on them. It's not clear at all what effect that will have on NC elections if that fails to happen. Preliminary injunctions happen early on in the judicial process. While I can't say 45 days wouldn't be unheard of, it's also really fast in terms of judicial calendars. – Machavity Oct 29 '19 at 16:13

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