NC Republicans call on state Supreme Court justice to recuse herself from redistricting case

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the case over North Carolina’s new electoral districts moves to the state Supreme Court, Republicans on Wednesday called on one of the Democratic justices to recuse herself, the latest in a series of requests asking some of the justices to step aside.

In a filing Wednesday, they called on Justice Anita Earls not to hear the case, citing her previous role as executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs.

They also cited contributions from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee made to the state Democratic Party in 2018 when Justice Earls ran for her seat on the state’s highest court.

“One of their target states is North Carolina – and it has been since 2017. In 2018, Justice Earls received outsized donations from the North Carolina Democratic Party just after the Party received nearly identical amounts from the NDRC,” attorneys for Republicans write.

It’s the third request for a justice to recuse themselves from this case.

The Supreme Court is comprised of seven justices, four of which are Democrats and three of which are Republicans.

Early last month, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice requested Republican Justice Phil Berger Jr. recuse himself from the case, noting his father is the Republican leader of the state Senate.

On Tuesday, plaintiffs filed a renewed request, pointing out the conflict of interest he would have ruling in a case that directly affects his father’s election.

Last week, Republicans asked Democratic Justice Sam Ervin Jr. to recuse himself as well, noting he’s up for re-election this year and would be impacted by any decisions affecting the timing of the election.

“And so, certainly this will only muddy the water when it comes to the average voter saying was this a political decision? Wasn’t it?” said Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer. “Well, in today’s hyper-polarized environment everything is political including judges.”

Last month, the state Supreme Court issued an order that says each justice has the ability to determine whether they should recuse themselves and that they cannot be forced off of a case. They also have the option of allowing the decision to go before the full court.

“It does not appear at this point as if any of the justices is going to step away. But, if we end up with some sort of partisan ruling, I think both sides will be able to point to the justices and say look we could have expected this,” said Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the conservative John Locke Foundation.

On Tuesday, a lower court ruled in favor of Republicans in a unanimous decision, allowing the districts they drew for Congress and the General Assembly to stand.

Dozens of times in the decision, they also wrote that they agreed with various experts who testified and found the districts were the result of “intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

Republicans have claimed throughout the process that they did not use partisan data in drawing the maps, but experts have found them to be statistical outliers designed to benefit the GOP.

“I disagree, respectfully, with that finding because partisan data wasn’t taken into account when the maps were drawn,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “It reflects that demographic breakdown of the state. That’s simply how it works.”

During the trial, it was revealed that Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) had viewed so-called “concept maps” behind closed doors before walking into the public map-drawing room to create new districts for the state House of Representatives.

Moore said Wednesday he learned about that for the first time during the trial.

“If they were consulting political data, they could have drawn the maps in a way that would have been much more advantageous for Republicans,” he said. “I think that’s a red herring that some folks out there on the other side are chasing.”

Democrats were optimistic the Supreme Court would ultimately deem the maps to be unconstitutional in time for them to be redrawn for this year’s election.

“To be clear, this isn’t the ballgame, right? There’s a reason we have a state Supreme Court. And, I look forward to this decision being appealed and heard by the highest court in the state,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake). “It’s my hope that the highest court in our state will take those same set of facts and decide there was partisan gerrymandering.”

Dr. Bitzer said the case could give greater clarity on what the state Constitution allows and what it doesn’t when it comes to redistricting.

“The (lower) court said this is a political question. We cannot resolve this at the trial court level. Either the Supreme Court or the legislature needs to ultimately deal with this issue,” he said. “We have all of the data. We have all of the evidence. But, we need judicial standards and legal standards, legal rationale to say this is too much partisan gerrymandering because it violates some provision of the state Constitution.”

The Supreme Court has already delayed the primary to May 17 in response to this case. Bitzer said if the maps are ultimately upheld it’s likely the election would still proceed on that timeline. If they’re struck down, there could be further delays.

He said, “It’s all up in the air right now.”

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