North Carolina Republicans reap the rewards of judicial victories in the redistricting ruling

By Giuseppe Ascia

(Reuters) – Democrats and Republicans poured millions of dollars into state Supreme Court races in North Carolina and Ohio last fall, seeing the seats as a crucial tool in advancing political power on issues such as redistricting, abortion and voting laws.

Republicans reaped their first big reward on Friday, when the newly elected conservative majority in the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to review an earlier decision that invalidated a Republican-backed redistricting map.

The move is a likely precursor to a ruling that gives the Republican-controlled state legislature the power to redraw the map for its own benefit, legal and political experts say.

If Republicans were allowed to implement more partisan congressional lines, the result would overturn three or maybe even four Democratic seats in North Carolina alone—enough to nearly double Republicans’ current narrow margin in the US House of Representatives in next year’s election. year.

The state’s 14 districts are currently split evenly between parties, after the November 2022 election was held using a more competitive map drawn by judges.

“We’re probably at a point where 11 Republican seats can be filled,” said Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, and author of “Redistricting and Gerrymandering in North Carolina: Battlelines in the State of the Tar Bead”.

Republicans on the court also agreed to review a case in which its former Democratic majority blocked a law requiring photo ID to vote.

Last year the Ohio state Supreme Court issued more than half a dozen 4-3 rulings that eliminated maps favoring Republicans on the grounds that they violated a constitutional provision that prohibited redistricting from favoring a party compared to another.

But with the retirement of the court’s chief justice, Maureen O’Connor, the swing vote for those decisions, and the election of Republicans to both open seats, most observers believe the new court majority is far less likely to stand in the way when the Republican-controlled Reorganization Commission redraws the maps later this year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they just go through kabuki theater, and we actually end up with exactly the same maps,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, which campaigns against partisan reorganization, of the commission.


In North Carolina, Republican candidates won two seats held by Democrats in November, stripping them of the majority. Friday’s decision by the five Conservatives earned a sharp rebuke from the two remaining Democratic justices.

“It took this court just a 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 sitting on the bench,” they wrote.

The court’s decision to reexamine the matter, rather than wait for lawmakers to draw new maps that would then be subject to litigation, creates the impression that the judges were acting out of “crude partisanship,” said Asher Hildebrand, a professor of public policy at Duke. University. University.

“To me, it removes any pretense that this was an impartial judicial review,” she said.

The office of Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the ruling.

Last year’s Democratic majority in court ruled that the state constitution outlawed gerrymandering, the process by which a party manipulates redistricting to consolidate power. That decision led North Carolina Republican lawmakers to appeal to the US Supreme Court in what became one of the most important cases of the year.

In Moore v. Harper, Republican lawmakers have asked the nation’s high court to embrace a once-fringe legal theory that would prevent judges from exercising any control over lawmakers’ power to draw maps and institute election rules. Democrats and civil rights advocates argued that the principle, known as the independent state legislature theory, would allow for undemocratic laws.

The North Carolina Supreme Court — whose earlier decision gave rise to the US Supreme Court case — may now choose to embrace the idea regardless of what the US Supreme Court ultimately decides.

“Either we get Moore v. Harper and it’s the Wild West everywhere, or we get a Republican state Supreme Court to overturn it and it’s just the Wild West in North Carolina,” Hildebrand said.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis)

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