North Carolina Supreme Court Clears Way for partisan gerrymandering

The state court’s decision, released Friday, could throw the U.S. Supreme Court away from a closely watched case about state legislatures’ power in federal elections. The justices heard arguments on the issue in December, but signaled last month that they would consider reversing course as a result of an effort to reverse the North Carolina court’s earlier ruling.

In a separate ruling, the court also overturned one of its past decisions on voter ID laws, with a similar 5-2 split strictly along party lines. The ruling, released Friday, will pave the way for the long-litigation photo identification law to go into effect in the state.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who now runs the Democratic Redistricting Committee, denounced the ruling as a blatant political exercise.

“This shameful, unconstitutional decision to allow unfair, blatant manipulation of North Carolina’s voting districts is not a function of legal theory, it is a function of political operatives and partisan opportunism,” Holder said in a statement. “Neither the map nor the law has changed from last year’s landmark rulings — only the makeup of the majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court has changed.”

The previous Democratic majority on the state court issued the latest in a series of decisions last year that ruled partisan gerrymandering illegal in North Carolina while also blocking enforcement of the state’s photo ID law. The new majority’s decision to rehear the arguments on these cases so quickly was unusual, and many court observers believed the decision to do so was a matter of when the new court would allow partisan gerrymandering.

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In a lengthy decision handed down by the court on Friday, the conservative justices concluded that it could not rule on claims of partisan gerrymandering, which they said was the role of the state legislature.

“There is no judicially manageable standard for adjudicating discriminatory gerrymandering claims. Courts are not intended to interfere in matters of policy,” Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote in his 144-page opinion for the court’s majority.

Much of the majority’s reasoning echoes a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found federal courts cannot act against partisan gerrymandering, but left the question in individual states to their courts.

“For a brief window, the state constitution gave the people the power to decide who should be elected to office,” Justice Anita Earls wrote with Justice Michael Morgan in her 72-page dissent. The pair, who joined in the court’s ruling last year, hit the map for being too partisan, with both of the court’s remaining Democratic justices.

“Today the majority takes this right away from the people; “It tells North Carolinians that the state constitution and courts cannot protect their basic human right to self-governance and self-determination,” Earls added, declaring that “the efforts of his Republican colleagues to downplay the practice will not destroy its consequences and the public. There will be no gaslighting.”

Friday’s decision on partisan gerrymandering could cement Republican dominance in the state. The state legislature has the power to recreate the state’s evenly divided congressional delegation — unusually, the state’s chief executive, now Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, has expressly dropped out of the process — and Republican lawmakers are not required to negotiate with Democrats. The GOP has supermajorities in both chambers.

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The new maps put Democratic Reps. Kathy Manning in Greensboro, Wiley Nickell in suburban Raleigh and Jeff Jackson in Charlotte at risk by putting them in Republican-leaning seats. Representative of the New Democratic Party. Dan Davies could see his rural North East district also being competitive.

Republicans could pick up 11 seats under a new map. Some GOP names to watch in potential new red seats: former Rep. Mark Walker, who is eyeing a return to Congress while also teasing a run for governor; Bo Hines, who lost to Nickell in 2022; and House Speaker Tim Moore.

When Republicans first drew congressional lines after the 2020 census, they overwhelmingly supported their party. That map was heavily litigated and ultimately stayed in state court, with the court-only maps drawn for the 2022 election. The state Legislature had always expected another crack at redrawing the map before 2024, and Friday’s ruling means lawmakers can draw lines similar to those previously drawn by the courts.

Moore, the state House speaker, said before Friday’s ruling that he did not expect the Legislature to take up mapmaking. Process until summer.

Friday’s ruling by North Carolina’s state Supreme Court could bring changes to the nation’s highest court as well.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments Moore v. Harper, It was a challenge brought by Republican legislative leaders to the North Carolina Supreme Court’s overturning of the original gerrymander maps last year.

That federal case introduced a once-prevailing legal idea known as the independent state legislature doctrine, which states that under the U.S. Constitution, state judiciaries have very little — no — authority to review state legislatures’ decisions to revise laws related to federal elections. . At least four of the court’s conservative justices have, at least, shown some friendliness to the doctrine — but during oral arguments in December, the court seemed unwilling to adopt a more robust reading of the doctrine.

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After North Carolina’s state Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to review the redistricting case, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the parties in the federal case to submit additional explanations about whether the court still has jurisdiction over the federal case. The country’s top court is at least considering dismissing the case early, which operationally means the court will not hear the case in advance and issue a decision.

Even some opponents of the free state legislative doctrine feared that the US Supreme Court would throw out the case. If it does, it means that there is no clear interpretation of the ISL doctrine in the 2024 elections from the Supreme Court.

The US Supreme Court has not indicated a timeframe for its next action Moore.

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