NC Supreme Court OKs Partisan Gerrymandering and Voter ID Laws

NC Supreme Court OKs Partisan Gerrymandering and Voter ID Laws

Reggie Weaver speaks outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C, on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson, File)

By Michael McElroy

April 28, 2023

The decisions, reversals of the court’s previous rulings, give the Republican-controlled General Assembly the ability to entrench their power, without checks or balances. 

In separate rulings on Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court declared it had no authority to stop the Republican-controlled General Assembly from tilting elections in the GOP’s favor, or from enacting voting requirements that disproportionately affect people of color.

Just last year, the court said the exact opposite. What changed? The 2022 midterm elections flipped the court from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority.

Though Republican leaders on Friday praised the rulings as reflecting the will of the people, the election maps in question—the one the previous court invalidated last summer—would have given the state GOP a partisan advantage much larger than the state’s racial and partisan demographics can justify. 

Voting rights advocates say Friday’s rulings are a significant blow to free and fair elections and undermine the integrity and independence of the court. Republicans in the legislature can now create election maps that ensure they’ll stay in power for nearly a decade, advocates said. Lawmakers also have a constitutional license to be the sole arbiters of how voting is conducted in the state, without any checks or balances.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, issued a statement on Twitter that the court was acting not as an independent body, but as an arm of the General Assembly.

“Republican legislators wanted a partisan court that would issue partisan opinions and that’s exactly what this is,” Cooper wrote.

The court’s 5-2 ruling was along party lines, 5 Republicans to 2 Democrats.

Justice Anita Earls was withering in her dissenting opinion in the gerrymandering case, the outcome of which effectively allows Republicans to manipulate district lines to their advantage, without regard for its impact on voters or the institution of democracy..

“Reason, common sense, and the rule of law are lost on those who do not care about interpreting the constitution in good faith,” Earls wrote. 

“She continued: “Put simply, the majority today instructs the General Assembly to violate the North Carolina constitution. In so doing, it puts on display just how far this Court has fallen.”

Here is a closer look at each case:

Gerrymandering 

Last year when the court had a Democratic majority, the justices ruled that new state Senate districts used in November’s midterm elections were engineered to help Republicans maintain power in a competitive state and violated the state constitution. 

That court ordered the legislature to redraw the districts. 

The rulings today invalidate those orders.

The new court backed the GOP’s argument in the case that only the state legislature has the authority to decide the particulars of its elections and that they can do so however they see fit. 

“Our constitution expressly assigns the redistricting authority to the General Assembly subject to explicit limitations in the text,” Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the majority.  

“Those limitations do not address partisan gerrymandering.”

In other words: The legislature can do whatever it wants, even if it means drawing districts so warped that Democrats don’t stand a chance at winning control in what is a near-50/50 state. 

Voter ID

Multiple federal courts have ruled that North Carolina’s 2018 Voter ID law was unconstitutional because, as one judge noted, it was written with “almost surgical precision” to hinder Black voters, who are less likely to have a valid ID. 

The law articulated the forms of acceptable ID, including what would have been a new form of identification that each county board of elections would have to provide free of charge to any registered voter who asked for it. But several studies across the country have shown that voters of color are less likely to have a photo ID and that ID requirements have a disproportionate effect on Black and Latino voters and make it more difficult for them to participate in elections.

These claims are without merit, the new state Supreme Court ruled today. Those extensive studies and previous court rulings were merely “subjective tests and judicial sleight of hand,” that “have systematically thwarted the will of the people and the intent of the legislature,” the GOP-controlled court  wrote

The previous court had no more authority to weigh in on voter ID than it did gerrymandered maps, the current court said.

Voting groups said that though they were disappointed and angry at the decision, they would continue to fight the net effects.

“It’s one of the worst decisions – ever – by the North Carolina Supreme Court,” tweeted Bob Phillips, executive director of the voting rights group Common Cause NC. “But we’re not going to give up.” 

 

Author

  • 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.

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