The two Democratic justices on the court disagreed with the majority’s decision, with Justice Anita Earls writing that rehearing the redistricting decision was a “power grab” and a “radical break with 205 years of history.”
The new Republican majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court decided on Friday to flex its partisan muscles and break with decades of precedent, agreeing to rehear cases on a voter photo ID law and redistricting that the Court ruled on less than two months ago.
Just this past December, the 4-3 Democratic majority court ruled that Republican legislators’ 2018 voter ID law intentionally discriminated against Black voters.
The court also ruled in December that the new state Senate districts used in November’s midterm elections—which Republicans drew following the 2020 census as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process—were unlawful partisan gerrymanders. In other words, the Court ruled that the district maps were engineered to help Republicans maintain power in a competitive state and violated the state constitution. As part of its December ruling, the court ordered the legislature to redraw the districts this year.
But now, the new 5-2 Republican majority—the result of Republicans flipping two Democratic-held Court seats in the November elections—has effectively thrown out both decisions, opting along party lines to rehear the cases in a pair of orders.
The two Democratic justices still on the court disagreed with the majority’s decision, with Justice Anita Earls writing that rehearing the redistricting decision was a “power grab” and a “radical break with 205 years of history.”
The Republican justices provided little justification for the rehearings, but their order came just two weeks after Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore formally asked the new GOP-majority court to rehear the cases. In his request, Moore claimed that partisan redistricting is beyond the jurisdiction of state courts, effectively arguing that the state legislature should have complete authority to determine district maps, with no checks or balances.
Bob Phillips, executive director of the pro-democracy group Common Cause North Carolina, criticized the Court’s decision and called out Republicans for their continued attack on voting rights.
“Politicians in the legislature refuse to respect our rights as they seek power to illegally rig our elections,” Phillips said in a statement. “This fight is not over. Once again, we will stand up for the people of North Carolina and defend our state’s constitution against political attacks.”
Common Cause, which was the plaintiff in the redistricting case, also criticized the decision to rehear the cases as an “extreme departure from precedent.”
Justice Earls also pointed out that rehearing cases is exceptionally rare.
“Since January 1993, a total of 214 petitions for rehearing have been filed, but rehearing has been allowed in only two cases,” Earls wrote in her dissent, citing data from the state Supreme Court’s electronic filing system. “This means that in a single day, the majority has granted more petitions for rehearing than it has over the past twenty years.”
“Going down this path is a radical departure from the way this Court has operated, and these orders represent a rejection of the guardrails that have historically protected the legitimacy of the Court,” she added.
She also warned that a court deciding to rehear a case just weeks after an initial ruling, with no intervening changes to law or evidence and no justification, could harm the court’s reputation for impartiality and show that the justices are political actors.
“It took this Court just one month to send a smoke signal to the public that our decisions are fleeting, and our precedent is only as enduring as the terms of the justices who sit on the bench,” Earls wrote. “The majority has cloaked its power grab with a thin veil of mischaracterized legal authorities. I write to make clear that the emperor has no clothes.”
The rehearings are scheduled for March 14.
If the Republican-controlled court sides with Moore and state Senate leader Phil Berger—as appears to be likely—it could reinstate the photo ID law and greenlight partisan gerrymandering, which would help Republicans secure their own power. If history is any indicator, they would likely achieve this by effectively disempowering the state’s millions of Black voters.