RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Ahead of a critical state Supreme Court hearing next week on the state’s new electoral district maps, you may see ads in the coming days highlighting the stakes in the case as it could reshape this year’s election.
The non-partisan group “RepresentUs” has called on the court to throw out the new districts Republicans approved for Congress and the General Assembly, saying the GOP unfairly designed them to make it easier for the party’s candidates to win races.
“Basically encouraging our courts to give us fair maps,” said James Pearce, North Carolina state director for RepresentUs. “Gerrymandering has been a huge issue in North Carolina dating back decades, back into the 80s when Democrats were doing it. And, we’ve got Republicans doing it now. People are tired of it.”
A lower court ruled earlier this month that the district maps are not unconstitutional, but that they did include many examples of “intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
Groups that have sued Republicans quickly appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter Feb. 2.
“Absolutely 100 percent they were drawn under the law. These are good maps. And the trial court was right when it found so,” said Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance).
Last month the state Supreme Court delayed this year’s primary election to May 17 amid the legal battle over the new districts.
“Really, we want to explain to folks what’s going on and what the stakes are with gerrymandering in North Carolina,” said Pearce. “This kind of process turns voters off to politics.”
The state Supreme Court has a Democratic majority and could order Republicans to redraw the maps if they’re found to be unconstitutional.
Three of the court’s seven justices are facing requests to recuse themselves from the case for various reasons.
Democrats have called for Republican Justice Phil Berger Jr. to step aside because his father is the Republican leader of the Senate and would be affected by the outcome of the case.
Republicans want Democratic Justice Samuel Ervin IV to recuse himself because he’s up for re-election this year.
But, in recent days they’ve focused most of their attention on Democratic Justice Anita Earls.
Senate Republicans have been sending out “Impartial Anita’s Tweet of the Day” attempting to highlight her past comments critical of Republican policies and her ties to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served in the Obama administration.
He now chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, and the group’s PAC contributed to the state Democratic Party in 2018 when Earls was running for the seat she eventually won on the Supreme Court. The NDRC has helped fund gerrymandering lawsuits in North Carolina.
“It definitely gives the impression that the General Assembly is not going to get a fair hearing,” said Sen. Galey. “When you don’t feel like you’re going to get a fair and impartial hearing before a judge, then yes, that needs to be made apparent to the people.”
CBS 17 has reached out to Justice Earls for comment.
The justices determined in December that it will be up to each individual justice to decide whether to recuse themselves from a case. They can also choose to put it up for a vote by the other six justices.
“I’ve never seen this kind of public campaign against individual justices,” said Meredith College political analyst David McLennan. “The state court system is going to be seen in much more political terms and seen as less trustworthy at least by a group of citizens.”
McLennan said it represents an important shift.
“What we’re all experiencing is the increased emphasis on the courts as being a political operation,” McLennan said. “The courts are seen as partisan as the legislature and the executive branch. So, I think people are just approaching the court system so differently. They’re talking about court cases as if they were bills in the legislature.”