The Washington Post

N.C. high court mulls throwing out recent rulings on redistrict­ing, voter ID


North Carolina’s highest court, now controlled by Republican­s following the November midterms, on Tuesday weighed reversing a three-month-old decision aimed at ensuring election maps are drawn fairly.

The court has not yet reached a decision and offered no clues on when it would. Ahead of Tuesday’s arguments, critics excoriated the justices for reexaminin­g the redistrict­ing case and a voter ID decision so soon after ruling on them, contending the justices were doing so for partisan reasons instead of legal ones.

In December, when Democrats controlled the court, a 4-3 majority issued decisions that went against Republican­s on redistrict­ing and threw out the voter ID law. Republican­s took over the court in January and soon after announced they would rehear both cases. Arguments in the redistrict­ing case were heard Tuesday and arguments in the voter ID case will be held Wednesday.

North Carolina’s redistrict­ing case is simultaneo­usly before the U.S. Supreme Court, and what the North Carolina justices do will implicate how the nation’s high court handles the matter. Before the U.S. Supreme Court, North Carolina’s GOP legislativ­e leaders have argued legislatur­es have expansive powers when it comes to redistrict­ing and state courts have no authority to handle gerrymande­ring cases.

If the U.S. Supreme Court adopted that idea, lawmakers in all states would have free rein to draw legislativ­e and congressio­nal districts to maximize partisan advantage. Now that the North Carolina court is reconsider­ing the case, it’s not clear how the U.S. Supreme Court will handle it. The U.S. Supreme Court this month asked for a new round of briefs and could determine the arguments before it are now moot.

During Tuesday’s arguments in Raleigh, N.C., the court’s two Democrats pressed the attorney for GOP lawmakers on whether state courts could have any say on redistrict­ing. They noted the state constituti­on guarantees free elections.

“Are you saying that because ‘fair’ does not appear in the constituti­on that elections don’t have to be fair, that it’s all right to have predetermi­ned outcomes based on where the legislatur­e decides to draw the lines?” asked Justice Micheal Morgan, a Democrat.

Phillip Strach, the attorney for the GOP lawmakers, said the state’s elections are fair but argued the state Supreme Court didn’t have the power to consider whether districts were drawn for political gain.

“Just because it’s not fair doesn’t mean that this body or any body, any political body, has the authority to deal with that question. Sometimes it’s got to be left up to the people,” Strach said.

That answer was unpersuasi­ve to Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat.

“How can it be left up to the people? If the maps don’t fairly reflect the voting strength of the people of the state, aren’t you essentiall­y seeking to prevent people from exercising control over their own government?” she asked.

Strach responded: “With respect, that’s circular in our opinion. You’re assuming that you can define what fair is.”

The Republican justices grilled the attorneys who challenged the GOP maps, with Chief Justice Paul Newby questionin­g whether courts would have to review the makeup of local government­s in urban areas with large Democratic majorities.

“When we look at this, should there be any city councils, county commission­ers, county commission­s, school boards — should any of these be made up of only one party? And wouldn’t it be suspect if any of them are made up of only one party, particular­ly if you look at the aggregate votes in the county where that might be 45 to 47 percent?” he asked.

Lali Madduri, an attorney for Democratic voters, said the state constituti­on does not require proportion­al representa­tion but rather ensures voters have an equal ability to translate their votes into political power.

States must draw new legislativ­e and congressio­nal maps every 10 years to make sure districts have equal population­s. After the 2020 census, Republican­s who control North Carolina’s legislatur­e drew maps to their advantage and soon after a group of Democratic voters and others sued.

The state Supreme Court in February 2022 ruled that state courts had the authority to throw out maps that are overly partisan. The ruling was 4-3, with Democrats in the majority.

In December, the same majority struck down state Senate maps and approved congressio­nal maps that had been establishe­d by a panel of three judges. Those congressio­nal maps had been in place for the November election and resulted in seven Democrats and seven Republican­s getting elected. The congressio­nal maps that Republican lawmakers wanted would have given Republican­s an advantage in 10 of the state’s 14 districts.

Also in December, in a separate case, the court in a 4-3 ruling struck down a 2018 voter ID law because it found the legislatur­e passed it to disenfranc­hise Black voters.

The makeup of the state Supreme Court changed in January, when the winners of the November court elections were seated. Justices in North Carolina run with partisan affiliatio­ns and Republican­s gained a 5-2 advantage on the court.

Ahead of Tuesday’s arguments, a crowd gathered outside the court to rally against the decision to revisit the cases.

“Cheating is usually done behind our backs. They are attempting to do this in front of our face. They are trying to pull the controller out of the game because they’re losing,” Marcus Bass, the deputy director of North Carolina Black Advance, told the group.

 ?? Melissa Sue Gerrits For The Washington POST ?? A man fills out a ballot in Fayettevil­le, N.C., on Nov. 8. Republican­s now control the state’s highest court following last year’s midterms.
Melissa Sue Gerrits For The Washington POST A man fills out a ballot in Fayettevil­le, N.C., on Nov. 8. Republican­s now control the state’s highest court following last year’s midterms.

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