NC Supreme Court overturns gerrymandering decision, reinstates voter ID law, ends felons’ voting rights

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina’s state Supreme Court tossed out a previous ruling that found electoral maps drawn by Republican lawmakers were illegal because they were too partisan.

In a series of three separate rulings Friday that effectively were wins for the GOP, the Republican majority of the state’s high court also reinstated the state’s voter ID law and ended voting rights for some felons.

Most notably, it reversed the map-drawing decision previously made when the court was majority Democrat and found the electoral districts drawn by GOP members were illegal.

“That’s just wrong if you care about having a real choice at the ballot box and electing someone like me whose job is to go to Washington and work with both sides,” said Congressman Wiley Nickel, D-13th Congressional District.

Chief Justice Paul Newby, writing for the majority, wrote that there is “no judicially manageable standard by which to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims.”

“Courts are not intended to meddle in policy matters,” Newby wrote. “In its decision today, the Court returns to its tradition of honoring the constitutional roles assigned to each branch. This case is not about partisan politics but rather about realigning the proper roles of the judicial and legislative branches. Today we begin to correct course, returning the judiciary to its designated lane.”

The map-drawing ruling gives the Republicans — who hold a supermajority in the General Assembly — the chance to redraw the state’s congressional map for the 2024 election. Democrats and Republicans each hold seven of the state’s 14 seats in Congress. National Republicans are trying to hold onto a slim majority.

“I think we are going to be ground zero for this election cycle, both at the presidential level and at the congressional level,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the state Republican Party. “I think that when you look at the narrow margins we have right now, every seat is going to be crucial. Every seat is going to be important.”

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told CBS 17 that lawmakers will not redraw North Carolina’s map until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a separate case involving Alabama’s redistricting plan and until they find out whether another case about the issue before the court will even continue after this ruling.

“This, to me, signals that the folks over in this building can gerrymander with as much as gusto as they choose. And that’s wrong,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause of North Carolina.

The court’s two Democratic justices dissented in all three rulings.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement that the court “ignored the constitution” and “followed the marching orders of the Republican legislature.”

“Republican legislators wanted a partisan court that would issue partisan opinions,” Cooper said, “and that’s exactly what they got.”

Moore said in a statement that the court’s decisions “have ensured that our constitution and the will of the people of North Carolina are honored.”

Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger said the rulings “affirm that our constitution cannot be exploited to fit the political whims of left-wing Democrats.”

Berger’s son, Justice Phil Berger Jr., is a Republican who sided with the majority.

Another decision from the court would end voting rights for felons who are out of prison but still serving probation or parole.

A trial court had ruled that the state’s 2018 voter ID law was unconstitutional, tainted by racial bias and designed to help Republicans keep hold of power at the General Assembly.

The high court sided with that ruling in December — when Democrats held a 4-3 majority — but agreed last month to take another look at it.

At the heart of the issue regarding voting rights for felons is a 1973 state law that delays the restoration of those rights for some offenders whose punishments do not include prison — which affects roughly 56,000 people.

A panel of state judged ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional and discriminates against Black residents. Defenders of the law say it treats all felony offenders the same and sets a bright line for voting once all punishments are completed. 

Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, D-Mecklenburg, said Friday, he along with fellow democrats plan to fight back.

“(It’s) Having a backbone to champion for local families across North Carolina (and) by strategically organizing.  By precinct by precinct.  By neighborhood by neighborhood,” said Mohammed.