The North Carolina Supreme Court has handed down three significant decisions, all decided along party lines with a 5-2 split. In each case, the five Republican justices formed the majority, while the two Democratic justices dissented.
These three cases each overturn previous rulings made by the court when it was under the control of a Democratic majority. This narrow 4-3 Democratic majority was broken following the 2022 midterms. Collectively, these rulings are likely the first in a set of decisions that will strike down major liberal rulings the court has made.
Gerrymandering ban overturned
In the most consequential ruling, the court has struck down a previous Supreme Court case which ruled that gerrymandering is banned under the state constitution. In the majority, the five Republican justices held that the previous decision was wrongly decided. They assert that partisan gerrymandering claims are “nonjusticable, political questions” and that redistricting power is “textually committed to the General Assembly… [with] a presumption of constitutionality.” They also held that the previous ruling was the result of Democratic justices “[rewriting] the Constitution”.
The two Democratic justices sharply dissented, with Anita Earls declaring the decision one of the “darkest moments” in the history of the North Carolina Supreme Court. The difference between the majority ruling and dissent could not be any more stark.
The legislature will now have the “opportunity to enact a new set of legislative and congressional redistricting plans,” with the legislative plans lasting the remainder of the decade. What this effectively means is the legislature can, by majority vote, enact new gerrymandered maps for both Congressional maps and the state legislature. These maps will likely guarantee a Republican Senate majority; the State Senate can be easily redraw to have competitive, Biden-Tillis seats in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, while the House will likely draw multiple new Republican-leaning districts in Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Mecklenburg, Pitt, and Wake counties.
This ruling may also have an impact on the United States Supreme Court. Because this ruling affects the basis of Harper v. Moore, which is set to review the controversial independent state legislature doctrine, the case may be dismissed or delayed by SCOTUS.
Voter ID and felon voting ban reinstated
In another ruling, the North Carolina Supreme Court voted 5-2 to overturn a previous ruling striking down a 2018 voter ID law. The 2018 law established a requirement for voters to show ID. Compared to previous attempts, the law “expanded the number of qualifying IDs” and allowed those without IDs to cast provisional ballots. However, the law had been struck down as racially discriminatory – a decision the new court rejects. Additionally, the North Carolina Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down a previous court ruling that repealed a state ban on felon voting. This will impact around 56,000 voters.
As expected, state Republicans have uniformly praised the decisions while state Democrats, including Governor Roy Cooper, have uniformly condemned them. These rulings underscore the deep political divide within the North Carolina judiciary, which has functioned as a check on the Republican-controlled legislature for years.
With a new Republican supermajority in the legislature, the state is now effectively under complete Republican control. And with Republicans now free to redraw legislative and congressional maps, it’s likely that Republican control will become even more deeply established in the near future.