Republican justices look ready to use their new majority on the North Carolina’s state Supreme Court to tear up the state’s congressional maps, and the new ones would likely favor the GOP up and down the ballot.
The Tar Heel state’s highest court heard arguments Tuesday about a case surrounding the power to set the state’s internal political boundaries. A previous iteration of the state Supreme Court ruled that the congressional lines drawn by GOP lawmakers were an illegal partisan gerrymander, and during the 2022 midterms a court-ordered congressional map that resulted in an even split in the state’s congressional delegation ended up being used….
Three key North Carolina justices signaled a degree of hostility to the arguments brought by attorneys representing the groups that defended the current congressional maps in the state.
The court is taking up the question of fairness of the state’s maps after the makeup of the court changed last November — now-Justices Richard Dietz and Trey Allen won a pair of state Supreme Court seats that flipped the balance of the court from a 4-3 liberal one to a 5-2 conservative one.
Dietz, Allen and Chief Justice Paul Newby — who was in the minority in last year’s 4-3 ruling — were the only three conservative justices to speak during Tuesday’s hour-long arguments in Raleigh.
Newby suggested in his questioning that there was no way for the courts to properly adjudicate what actually would constitute a “fair” map in the state — and suggested the question might be better left to lawmakers. He pressed Lali Madduri, an attorney who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, on how lawmakers and judges should interpret metrics used to measure partisan fairness, and if advisers to the court who either make those measurements or draw the lines should be subject to an ethics code.
“How does the General Assembly determine that ‘all voters have equal voting power?’” he asked, implying it wasn’t feasible.
Allen, at one point, seemed to say arguments against gerrymandering could spin out of control. He picked up on a line of questioning from Newby, wondering if the court should apply those principles of fair elections to county and municipal elections — or even school boards or other local offices.
The two Democratic judges left on the North Carolina high bench sought to defend their past majority opinion. Justice Anita Earls pushed Phillip Strach, who represented Republican lawmakers, on his arguments that the court did not have jurisdiction to determine the fairness of the maps and that it was a political question left to lawmakers.