When Democrats win state supreme Court races as in Michigan and Wisconsin (or force appointments of liberals as in New York) it opens up a huge realm of possibilities for real progress.
The North Carolina Supreme Court has overturned its own past ruling that said partisan gerrymandering is illegal, clearing the way for Republicans there to redraw the state’s congressional lines in a way that heavily favors the GOP.
The ruling clears the way for North Carolina legislators to aggressively gerrymander the congressional map, which is currently represented by seven Democrats and seven Republicans. Now Republicans in Raleigh could re-create the map they initially passed last cycle which a Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court struck down, netting as many as four seats.
The court issued a 5-2 decision, with the court’s Republican justices voting to overturn the past ruling and the two Democratic justices dissenting. The court flipped from 4-3 Democratic control to 5-2 Republican control during elections last November.
The state court’s ruling issued Friday could also result in the U.S. Supreme Court dropping a closely watched case about the power of state legislatures over federal elections. The justices heard arguments on the issue in December, but signaled last month that they were considering changing course as a result of the effort to get the North Carolina court to reverse its earlier ruling.
In a separate ruling, the court also overturned another one of its past decisions on a voter ID law, on a similar 5-2 split strictly along party lines. That ruling issued Friday will clear the way for a long-litigated photo ID law to go into effect in the state.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who now runs a Democratic redistricting group, denounced the ruling as a nakedly political exercise.
“This shameful, delegitimizing decision to allow the unjust, blatant manipulation of North Carolina’s voting districts was not a function of legal principle, it was a function of political personnel and partisan opportunism,” Holder said in a statement. “Neither the map nor the law have changed since last year’s landmark rulings — only the makeup of the majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court has changed.”
The previous Democratic majority on the state court issued a series of recent decisions in the last year that ruled that partisan gerrymandering was illegal in North Carolina, while also blocking implementation of the state’s photo ID law. The new majority’s decision to rehear arguments on these cases so quickly was an unusual one, and many court observers believed the decision to do so meant that it was a matter of when, not if, the new court would allow for partisan gerrymandering.
In a lengthy decision issued by the court Friday, the conservative justices concluded that they could not adjudicate claims of partisan gerrymandering, saying that is the role of the state legislature.
“There is no judicially manageable standard by which to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims. Courts are not intended to meddle in policy matters,” Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote in his 144-page opinion for the court’s majority.