N.C. Supreme Court hears new arguments on Voter I.D. and redistrictingBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / October 13, 2022
In order to make sure their decisions on two critical 2024 election issues are the ones that count before they possibly lose their majority on the N.C. Supreme Court, Democratic justices heard back-to-back arguments last week concerning voter I.D. and redistricting. The three Republicans on the seven-member panel had previously objected, opining that Democrats were fast-tracking the two cases knowing that if they lose even one seat of their 4-3 majority in the November midterm elections, they lose their majority for the first time since 2016. So Democratic justices took advantage.
On Monday, October 3rd, the state’s High Court heard a new round of arguments over the constitutionality of North Carolina’s 2018 voter photo identification law. The case was appealed by Republican state lawmakers after the N.C. NAACP won before a three-judge Superior Court panel in 2021.
That panel ruled that even if the Republican-led NC General Assembly had no racial animus towards African Americans when it wrote the 2018 voter ID law, the effect was still discriminatory because the GOP was seeking a partisan advantage, and because most African American voters support the Democratic Party, past courts have ruled that Republicans were trying to diminish the Black pro-Democrat vote, knowing that many African Americans do not carry the voter photo ID required by the law.
The 2018 voter ID law hasn’t been allowed to be implemented yet because of various successful legal challenges, and Republican legislative leaders sought to change that in their Oct. 3rd legal arguments.
Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby questioned whether anyone would be disenfranchised given that the 2018 law, just as the controversial 2013 voter ID law which was overturned, made provisions for voters who did not have a photo ID, but could prove a “reasonable impediment.” A Republican attorney argued that the GOP made sure anyone and everyone eligible to vote could cast a ballot.
Republican Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr., whose father is N.C. Senate Pro team Phil Berger Sr., questioned plaintiffs’ attorney about whether they would like any voter ID law the legislature passed.
But Jeffrey Loperfido, a plaintiff’s attorney for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, forcefully argued that when the 2013 voter ID law was implemented, over 1,200 eligible North Carolina voters without photo ID – many of them Black – were prevented from participating in subsequent elections.
Loperfido warned that if the 2018 law were allowed to stand, that injustice could happen again.
When the state Supreme Court reconvened on Tuesday, October 4th, the case was about how Republicans deliberately drew new voting districts for themselves that assured their legislative and congressional election advantages, even if Democrats won a majority of the votes cast.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that partisan gerrymandering, unlike racial gerrymandering, is constitutional under federal law. But state law is another matter.
Partisan gerrymandering is not constitutional under North Carolina law, and Democratic justices were listening intently to Republican arguments as to why it should be.
By no coincidence, Republican legislative leaders are also arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that the N.C. Supreme Court shouldn’t even have the power to touch any of their legislative decisions, especially those involving how federal elections are managed, regardless of the outcome.
The state High Court’s Democratic majority didn’t like that explanation last February when the GOP-led N.C. legislature’s most recent redistricting maps were challenged. It was ordered to redraw its congressional, state House and state Senate Districts because of how they overwhelmingly favored Republicans. The court recommended a set of metrics.
A three-judge Superior Court panel was tasked to review the maps, and redrew the congressional one, deciding that the state House and Senate maps passed legal muster.
That didn’t stop a lawsuit by the National Redistricting Foundation against all of the Republican maps.
So, on Oct. 4th, attorneys arguing against the Republican maps said GOP legislators could have drawn fairer maps if they followed the suggested metrics, but they didn’t want to.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Elisabeth Theodore told the court, “ When the Republicans get 55 percent of the vote in the Senate map, they get 33 seats, which is a supermajority. And when Democrats get 55 percent of the vote, they only get 28 seats.”
She wanted both the Senate and Congressional maps struck down.
An attorney for the Republican legislators warned the High Court that by doing so, it “…would be barreling into a political wilderness, where legislative authority to redistrict will be transferred from the legislature to the courts.”
Decisions in both the voter ID and redistricting cases are expected before the end of the year.