Will GOP redraw fairer redistricting maps after 4-3 N.C. High Court ruling?By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / February 11, 2022
Republican legislative leaders in the N.C. General Assembly have until Feb. 18 to redraw their “unconstitutional” GOP-leaning redistricting maps the N.C. Supreme Court knocked down February 4th or a lower court will do it for them.
Two questions – will GOP lawmakers do it, or will they refuse?
At stake – Republican ability to increase their numbers to takeover Congress next session and build supermajorities in the N.C. General Assembly in this fall’s elections, and for the next ten years.It has now been almost a week since the state’s High Court, in a 4-3 party-line decision overturning a previous lower court ruling, decided against the Republican maps for the upcoming 2022 congressional and legislative races, ruling that they were “unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If the GOP congressional map was allowed to proceed, Republicans would likely win 11 of 14 districts drawn, crippling Black voting strength in the process.
The same with legislative House and Senate districts.
“Many of the changes GOP lawmakers made to give themselves more seats in the future came at the expense of Black Democrats in Eastern North Carolina — particularly centered around Rocky Mount and Wilson — after Republicans decided to draw the maps without using racial data that would protect majority-minority districts,” reported the News and Observer newspaper.
“…[T]he General Assembly must not diminish or dilute any individual’s vote on the basis of partisan affiliation,” the N.C. High Court order said.
The court’s four Democrat judges agreed that the maps, as drawn, fundamentally denied Black voters in the state their right to fairly elect representatives of their choosing, and “equal protection under the law,” thus making the maps unconstitutional.
“When a districting plan systematically makes it harder for one group of voters to elect a governing majority than another group of voters of equal size, the General Assembly unconstitutionally infringes upon that voter’s fundamental right to vote,” wrote Democrat Justice Robin Hudson for the majority.
The High Court’s three-justice Republican minority disagreed, saying that North Carolina’s Constitution does not guarantee “fair” elections, only “free” elections, and further, that it is not the court’s prerogative to decide what is fair when it comes to political questions like voting districts.
In effect, the same bi-partisan decision arrived at by a lower court three-judge panel January 11th before the state Supreme Court took the case, even though that same panel also noted that the GOP maps were “…a partisan outlier intentionally and carefully designed to maximize Republican advantage,” thus leading to results that are “incompatible with democratic principles.”
“We have ‘free.’ We don’t have ‘fair’,” Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, rhetorically asked during case arguments Feb. 2nd.
Several states, like Pennsylvania, do specifically note “free’ and “fair’ elections in their constitutions.
Thus, Republicans argued, extreme partisanship in redrawing the maps should not be a legal question since the state Constitution does not specifically outlaw it, but a political one that only elected leaders in charge of redistricting should answer.
Supporters of the 4-3 decision vigorously disagreed.
“Today’s ruling is an unequivocal win for North Carolina’s Black voters….,” said Attorney Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, representing one of the plaintiffs, Common Cause, remarked last Friday.
There were also plaudits from Governor Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s Democratic congressional delegation and N.C. Democratic legislative leaders.
On the other side, anything but applause from GOP critics.
“What a shock,” State Sen. Dan Bishop tweeted. “4-3 decision. Only Democrat judges struck down maps drawn by a Republican legislature. For 140 years of unbroken Democrat rule, they failed to see a problem. Elections for the Supreme Court majority are around the corner.”
If Republican legislative leaders do submit new redistricting plans to a lower court three-judge panel by Feb. 18th, that panel will have until Feb. 23rd to either approve the newly submitted maps or select different ones. Candidate filing will resume on Feb. 24th from last December, and the May 17th primaries will then go on as planned.
“My anticipation is that they will continue to defy and will adopt similar maps while engaging in a campaign to paint the Democratic [justices] as being unethical and overly partisan,” surmised Irving Joyner, law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham. “I do expect the noise about impeaching the [Democrat justices] to ramp up and that possibly there will be that attempt to do so.”