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North Carolina Supreme Court overrules voting maps decision in key swing state

By Sarah May on
 April 29, 2023

In a significant victory for Republicans in the state, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed its 2022 ruling that struck down GOP-drawn voting maps, holding that the claims underlying opposition to the redistricting decisions are political questions not within the purview of state courts, as The Hill reports.

The justices' decision came in the form of a 5-2 party-line vote, and in addition to issuing the aforementioned ruling, they also separately reinstated legal provisions mandating voter ID and prohibiting voting by certain categories of felons.

Prior Ruling Reversed

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby authored the majority opinion in which the panel's previous stance on redistricting was overturned.

“Our constitution expressly assigns the redistricting authority to the General Assembly subject to explicit limitations in the text,” he began.

The opinion continued, “Those limitations do not address partisan gerrymandering. It is not within the authority of this Court to amend the constitution to create such limitations on a responsibility that is textually assigned to another branch.”

According to the Associated Press, the decision could pave the way for Republicans in the state legislature to bolster their party's chances of gaining seats when the time comes to redraw district boundaries ahead of the 2024 contest.

Searing Dissent

Writing in dissent was Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat, and in her estimation, “the majority abolishes the fundamental right to vote on equal terms regardless of political party through a process driven by partisan influence and greed for power.”

“Let there be no illusions about what motivates the majority's decision to rewrite this Court's precedent,” she went on. “Today's result was preordained on 8 November 2022, when two new members of this Court were elected to establish this Court's conservative majority.”

Citing a cautionary phrase from prior North Carolina precedent, Earls added, “In a single blow, the majority strips millions of voters in this state of their fundamental, constitutional rights and delivers on the threat that 'our decisions are fleeting, and our precedent is only as enduring as the terms of the justices who sit on the bench.'”

Attempting to strike an optimistic note, however, Earls also wrote, “Following decisions such as this, we must remember that, though the path forward might seem long and unyielding, an injustice that is so glaring, so lawless, and such a betrayal to the democratic values upon which our constitution is based will not stand forever.”

Reactions Pour in

As Raleigh ABC affiliate WTVD reports, reactions to the high court's decision did not take long to register, with divergent opinions falling largely along party lines.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein declared, “The Court's ruling in Harper v. Hall today is a devastating blow to democracy. Our constitution is supposed to be a check on the power of the legislature. But these Republican justices have surrendered that role, taking power away from the people and giving it to an out-of-control gerrymandered Republican supermajority in the legislature.”

Republican State House Speaker Tim Moore stated, “The decisions handed down today by the N.C. Supreme Court have ensured that our constitution and the will of the people of North Carolina are honored.”

Phil Berger, Republican Senate Leader agreed, opining, “For years plaintiffs and activist courts have manipulated our Constitution to achieve policy outcomes that could not be won at the ballot box. Today's rulings affirm that our Constitution cannot be exploited to fit the political whims of left-wing Democrats.”

GOP Heralds Ancillary Rulings

The North Carolina high court also ruled Friday that voter-ID requirements are to be reinstated and that prohibitions against voting by some classes of felons are indeed allowable.

Writing for the majority in the latter case, Republican Justice Trey Allen explained, “The General Assembly did not engage in racial discrimination or otherwise violate the North Carolina Constitution by requiring individuals with felony convictions to complete their sentences – including probation, parole, or post-release supervision – before they regain the right to vote,” as The Hill noted.

Similar findings were made in the voter-ID controversy, with the Republican majority overturning a prior ruling from when the panel was dominated by Democrats, with Justice Paul Berger writing for the majority and saying, “The people of North Carolina overwhelmingly support voter identification and other efforts to promote greater integrity and confidence in our elections.”

“Subjective tests and judicial sleight of hand have systematically thwarted the will of the people and the intent of the legislature. But no court exists for the vindication of political interests, and judges exceed constitutional boundaries when they act as a superlegislature,” Berger added.