What Happens in a NC Courtroom This Week Could Change the Direction of NC

Teachers dance during a protest outside the state capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina on May, 16 2018. Education funding has been a major concern in North Carolina in the last decade after the GOP-controlled legislature handed down steep cuts. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP)

By Michael McElroy, Billy Ball

January 28, 2022

Without court action, Republicans would be all but assured of dominating action on minimum wage, education funding, abortion rights, voting rights, and more.

A crucial gerrymandering trial next week could decide the balance of power in North Carolina over the next decade. 

The NC Supreme Court will hear the case, which challenges the constitutionality of state voting districts that Republicans all but certainly drew to give them an advantage in elections. It matters because, without court action, it would most likely assure Republicans of holding the power in the years to come on pivotal state issues like the raising the minimum wage, education funding, abortion rights, Medicaid expansion, health care, and more. 

The trial will begin Wednesday. 

The case will likely decide the timing of this year’s primaries too, with Gov. Roy Cooper vetoing a GOP bill Friday that would have delayed them until June. 

Republicans said they wanted more time for the courts to sort out that court case over the state’s gerrymandered maps. The primaries had already been postponed from March until May for that case.

In a statement, Cooper called the primary delay bill “an additional attempt by Republican legislators to control the election timeline and undermine the voting process.”

“The constitutionality of congressional and legislative districts is now in the hands of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Court should have the opportunity to decide how much time is needed to ensure that our elections are constitutional,” Cooper said.

The maps at issue were drawn last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, and faced several lawsuits soon after they were formally adopted. The state supreme court combined all the suits into one. Independent analysis of the maps, elections experts say, show that Republicans would have a partisan advantage under the new maps much larger than the state’s racial and partisan demographics can explain. 

A panel of the NC Superior Court ruled this month that though there was clear evidence the maps did not reflect the realities of the state’ demographics, the maps themselves were not unconstitutional.

The maps, for example, would give Republican candidates an uncontested path to 10 of the 14 NC House seats, even though the state has more registered Democrats than Republicans, has elected a Democratic governor two terms in a row, and had a far closer split among Trump voters and Biden voters in the 2020 elections. (Trump won by less than two percentage points.)

The new districts would also split several areas with a large number of Black voters, spreading their number in smaller chunks over more districts, making it more difficult for them to elect the representatives of their choice.

Experts for the plaintiffs testified to all this in the trial, and the judges seemed to have accepted this argument as valid. 

“The Court finds,” the judges wrote in their ruling, “that the Congressional map is the product of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting. The enacted map sticks at 4 Democrats and 10 Republicans despite large shifts in the statewide vote fraction across a wide variety of elections, in elections where no nonpartisan map would elect as few as 4 Democrats and many would elect 7 or 8.” The judges agreed that the map was “an extreme outlier,” quoting one of the experts.

But, the judges ruled, because the General Assembly didn’t break any state laws, there was nothing the court could do. 

Soon the state’s highest court will give the final word.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed preliminary briefs on Thursday laying out their case.


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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