GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The battle for who draws electoral districts in North Carolina – a two-front war at the moment – took another odd legal twist late Thursday.
The United States Supreme Court asked for assistance in helping justices weigh the effect recent moves in the NC Supreme Court might have on the case about legislative authority argued before it in December and awaiting a final decision.
The background on this can take paragraphs to unfurl, but here’s the essence:
- NC House Speaker Tim Moore last summer asked SCOTUS to rule on whether state courts had a voice in the drawing of district maps for federal elections.
- But after that hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, the NC Supreme Court issued a further ruling to uphold their decision from last winter to order the redraw of maps for Congress and the General Assembly that justices considered to be unconstitutional gerrymandering.
- In February, acting on a request from Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger, the NC court, now a Republican majority, agreed to rehear that decision.
- All of that led SCOTUS to direct the solicitor general, Moore and his petitioners and defendants Rebecca Harper et al to submit by March 20 briefs about how this rehearing decision affects the federal jurisdiction.
The U.S. Supreme Court – and keeping your supremes straight can be a job – had heard arguments about the extent of authority the Constitution gives the legislature in this matter, and its ruling is expected to have a significant impact across the country. All state supreme court chief justices have asked that their federal counterparts to rule against the petitioners.
Meanwhile, on Friday morning, Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, filed an amicus brief in the case up for rehearing, suggesting that to reconsider this case would be “unprecedented” and “undermine the rule of law.” March 14 is the deadline for all briefs to be submitted.
“The Court should reject this shameless partisan effort to overturn Supreme Court decisions that protect the ability of voters to fairly select their representatives in our democracy,” Cooper said of the brief. “Nothing has changed in this case but the partisan composition of the Court. The meaning of our Constitution does not change when the justices do.”
Said Stein: “There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote and to have that vote matter. Partisan gerrymandering was wrong and unlawful when the Supreme Court ruled on this case last year, and it remains wrong and unlawful today. North Carolina’s constitution makes clear that all of the power belongs to the people, and that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. I urge the Court to not take the extraordinary step of overruling its previous decision and instead respect the rule of law by reaffirming that partisan gerrymandering violates our constitution and undermines our democracy.”
Abortion, medical marijuana and more
When Berger and Moore on Thursday announced that they finally had reached an agreement to expand Medicaid to 600,000 in North Carolina, long pushed by Democrats, they perhaps did so knowing it was a popular decision. The question is now whether they will check polls before making other major decisions.
The Meredith Poll last month asked registered voters about Medicaid expansion and found that 70% (with a 3% +- factor), approved expanding the program.
But those same legislative leaders, who have said they would like to tighten the state’s 20-week abortion window and have been quietly discussing those options, might check that same poll, which suggests they move very carefully.
Nearly 6 in 10 respondents (57.1%) said the state should maintain the abortion law is it is now (which is slightly tighter than the specifications that had been in place under Roe v. Wade). Only 8.3% say the state should make abortion illegal in all cases, as Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson had pitched earlier this week. About 28% are in between.
The poll also was very clear on the idea of medical marijuana, which this week passed the Senate and is headed to the House, with 73% favoring it. On the matter of legalized sports gambling, which nearly passed last summer, a plurality of 46.3% support it.
The poll had some other interesting findings:
- President Joe Biden’s approval remains low (42% approve-52.1% disapprove), and Gov. Roy Cooper remains solid (52.8% approve-32.9% disapprove).
- About 78% of respondents think the country is more politically divided than it used to be, and only about 1 in 10 think that will improve in the next 5 years. Nearly half think the divide will worsen.
- About 33.8% think GOP is more extreme in its positions, and more of us – about 29.8%, if that’s a victory – think Democrats govern in a more ethical way. About the same percentage (29.1%) say neither party is ethical.
- More voters identify with Democrats, but their trust in either party to govern better in Washington is almost a tie. And about 63.4% say a third party is needed.
Those congressional maps ordered redrawn by the courts last year left the North Carolina with a 7-7 split of Democrats and Republicans in the House. But even if those maps don’t change for 2024 – as most observers expect they will – some polling suggests that four of those seats could be tenuous for Democrats.
The University of Virginia Center for Politics last week released its first Sabato’s Crystal Ball report on 2024, which showed 6th District Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), 1st District Rep. Don Davis (D-Snow Hill), 13th District Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-Cary) and 14th District Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-Charlotte) to be in more precarious positions.
Manning, in her second term, won re-election in a district that was redrawn to be decidedly less Democrat-dominant, getting 53.88% of the vote over Republican Christian Castelli.
Davis, Nickel and Jackson all are in the first terms. Only Jackson (with 57.5%) had an easy path to victory.
Pending the court’s ruling, all three could find themselves in districts redrawn to be more favorable to Republicans. The General Assembly’s original maps for 2022 had Manning double-bunked with veteran Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) in a sprawling district and Guilford County diluted in three separate districts, and the GOP longs to draw the 14th to make it an opportunity for Moore
Delanie Bomar, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told McClatchy Newspapers that the NRCC’s list includes members who “won or lost within 5% of the congressional margin. This is not a final target list.”
Speaking of candidates
Robinson, who on Monday will deliver the GOP response to Cooper’s “State of the State” address – a role usually taken by legislative leaders – is spending his weekend speaking at the CPAC convention in Washington, where the most conservative members of the GOP gather to hear various speakers.
Robinson is the unannounced but presumed frontrunner for the GOP nomination to succeed Cooper, and only Stein has announced formally that he would seek the nomination.
While Robinson is on one stage, Stein is on another, serving on Saturday as a keynote speaker on a “Family Summit on Illicit Fentanyl Fatalities in North Carolina” in Raleigh. More than 70,000 in the U.S. died of fentanyl overdoses in 2021.