WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) – The election map-drawing cycle that never seems to end in North Carolina likely appears headed for a final spin.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday said it would take up in its next session the case of who controls election maps in North Carolina: the General Assembly or the courts?
As you know, in the past decade, the maps drawn by lawmakers in North Carolina – and in other states, to be sure – largely have been tossed out by courts (both federal and state) for being illegal gerrymanders that disenfranchised voters because of race (pick your court ruling on those). Lawmakers also have failed to move several bipartisan bills that addressed creating an independent election commission.
This storyline played out most recently earlier this year, of course, when the North Carolina Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote along partisan lines, ordered a trial court in Wake County to take the maps drawn last fall by lawmakers and see that they are fairer for Congress and the General Assembly.
With the help of special masters, a 3-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court did just that in February, setting the districts for the current election cycle, but only for this election cycle – not the constitutionally mandated 10-year cycle.
Lawmakers then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected that appeal largely because of timing, but a statement issued by Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed to indicate the court might consider these arguments on some future case, opening the window for rewriting the precedence the court had established for saying such matters were left to state courts.
Now we know that’s going to happen. Justices on Thursday agreed to consider whether state courts can, along state constitutional lines, order changes to federal election maps.
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), whose name appears on Moore v. Harper, the case the court will consider, in a statement praised the decision as being important for “the security of elections nationwide.”
“On the heels of another victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, I am confident that this court recognizes what our state Supreme Court failed to recognize — that the United States Constitution explicitly gives the General Assembly authority to draw districts and that authority must be recognized,” he said.
Moore earlier this month has said the General Assembly may assemble a lame-duck session after the elections in November to undertake maps for the 2024 election cycle. It’s unclear why he would want the matter to be addressed before the new membership is seated next year. Gov. Roy Cooper can’t veto election maps.
Republicans also have expressed hope that they can seize control of the North Carolina Supreme Court in this year’s election, when three seats are on the ballot.
“In a radical power grab, self-serving politicians want to defy our state’s highest court and impose illegal voting districts upon the people of North Carolina,” Bob Phillips of Common Cause, North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs that pursued the redraw of maps this year, said in a statement. “We will continue to stand up for the people of our state and nation as this case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. We must stop this dangerous attack on our freedom to vote.”
Zach Schauf, an attorney who argued the case this year on behalf of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, one of the plaintiffs grouped under the name “Harper,” said in a statement that this case is “about more than gerrymandering in North Carolina. It concerns a core principle from the earliest days of our Republic – that state laws governing federal elections are subject to the constraints that the people wrote into their state constitutions. We look forward to defending that fundamental tenet of democracy in the Supreme Court.”
Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told The Associated Press that “this case could profoundly alter the balance of power in states and prevent state courts and agencies from providing protections for people’s right to vote.
“There’s a wide range of ways the court could rule on this. Taken to its extreme, it would be a radical reworking of our system of running elections.”