RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state Supreme Court will re-hear two key cases impacting elections in North Carolina, granting requests by the Republican leaders of the General Assembly.
Following last year’s election, Republicans now hold five of the court’s seven seats. The court had a 4-3 Democratic majority previously when it issued key decisions declaring the state’s voter ID law to be unconstitutional and deeming electoral maps drawn by Republican legislators to be unconstitutional on the grounds of partisan gerrymandering.
“I think the results of the last election would indicate that the public was not satisfied with the court that existed,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
The court scheduled arguments in both cases for the week of March 14.
In two orders issued Friday evening (click here and here), the Republican justices determined that legislative leaders met the standards to grant the rehearing requests and noted that can happen “if the petitioner makes a satisfactory showing that the opinion may be erroneous.”
The two Democratic justices dissented. In one of those dissents, Justice Anita Earls wrote, “The majority’s order fails to acknowledge the radical break with 205 years of history that the decision to rehear this case represents.”
She also noted that in the past 30 years, the court has granted rehearings in two cases.
“I think what was the radical break with history was what the court did last year,” said Sen. Berger, noting the Democratic majority’s decision to hear certain cases on an expedited schedule.
Former U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama and chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, released a statement Monday about the decision.
“This decision underscores the craven nature of too many North Carolina Republicans. Judges are not – and should not – be political actors once they are elected. It is their duty to serve independently – without political favor. Yet, the newly-elected Republican majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court is apparently preparing to reverse decisions made by their own court just months ago. This is not a function of legal principle – it is an indication of political opportunism,” he said.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the cases could be “very consequential.”
Republicans are likely to rule in favor of something that sticks with the text of the constitution and what the laws actually say, not what the left-of-center activists are telling the judges and justices,” he said. “There will definitely be accusations that politics is playing a role. But, politics also played a role in the way these cases played out the first time.”
Even if the state Supreme Court deems the voter ID law constitutional, Kokai noted it’s still not clear if voters will have to show a photo ID in the 2024 election. There’s a separate federal lawsuit still pending.
In 2018, a majority of voters decided to amend the state Constitution to require a photo ID to vote, but the requirement has been on hold ever since then.
“Democrats or Republicans are not gonna say to you, ‘yeah we think it’s because the facts changed or because the law changed.’ Everybody agrees it’s because the court changed. It’s because the partisan composition of the court changed,” said Chaz Beasley, a former Democratic state representative and board member of the New North Carolina Project, which works to engage minority voters.
“If these cases go the way a lot of people are expecting them to go, you’re going to see a lot of people who are going to be quite jaded that their voice is not going to matter as much as it otherwise would,” Beasley added.