State Supreme Court Rejects Competing Redistricting Appeals

Empty chairs at the N.C. Supreme Court. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

By Mitch Kokai
Carolina Journal

The N.C. Supreme Court is refusing to insert itself back into the state’s legal dispute over legislative and congressional redistricting at this time. A series of court orders issued about 10 p.m. Wednesday denied requests for action from supporters and critics of a three-judge panel’s ruling on election maps.

Multiple filings at the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon had appealed different aspects of a ruling Wednesday afternoon from a three-judge panel. That panel is overseeing the state’s ongoing redistricting dispute.

Critics wanted the high court to strike down a new map drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly for N.C. Senate election districts. Meanwhile, legislators wanted to reverse the panel’s decision to throw out a new map for North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Supreme Court had set a 5 p.m. deadline for all appeals of the three-judge panel’s noon ruling. Candidate filing for all N.C. elections is set to resume Thursday morning. That includes races for disputed congressional and legislative seats.

“The General Assembly’s remedial legislative maps met all of the court-mandated tests and were constitutionally compliant,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in a prepared statement. “A bipartisan panel of Special Masters affirmed that. We’re thankful for the trial court’s ruling today. We disagree with the interim Congressional map imposed by the Special Masters and are seeking a stay of that map, however, it’s time to move on and allow the filing period to begin tomorrow morning.”

A 114-page filing from lawyers representing Berger and other legislative defendants asks the state Supreme Court to block a congressional map developed by “special masters” working with the three-judge panel.

“Because the legislatively enacted maps should have been presumed constitutional, the trial court was not free simply to substitute its judgment for that of the Legislature,” according to the document. “The trial court was not tasked to use retired judges and mathematicians to create the most fair map in all the land; rather, the trial court was tasked by this Court to adopt or approve a constitutionally compliant map. Thus, the trial court went far beyond its charge in rejecting the Legislature’s Remedial Constitutional map— the only map meeting Article I, Section 2 of our federal constitution — with the presumption of constitutionality and adopting a map of its own making. Accordingly, this Court should stay any implementation of the congressional map chosen by the trial court until this Court can review the decision of the trial court.”

Each of the three sets of plaintiffs in the case also appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Map critics collectively labeled the Harper plaintiffs want the high court to strike down the map approved for 50 N.C. Senate districts. The General Assembly had adopted that map on a party-line vote. The three-judge panel had determined that the map met the Supreme Court’s standard for partisan fairness.

“The Court should instead order adoption of the Harper Plaintiffs’ proposed remedial Senate map, and order the opening of candidate filing tomorrow using Harper Plaintiffs’ proposed remedial Senate map, and the remedial House and Congressional maps adopted by the trial court,” according to the Harper plaintiff’s court filing.

A separate set of plaintiffs tied to the N.C. League of Conservation Voters also appealed the trial court’s ruling. Like the Harper plaintiffs, NCLCV plaintiffs target the state Senate plan.

“The trial court … approved a party-line Senate plan that preserves roughly half of the pro-Republican bias this Court found unconstitutional,” according to the NCLCV filing. “And it did so even though it had before it alternative remedial plans (from the NCLCV Plaintiffs and the Harper Plaintiffs) that all but eliminate this bias while complying as well or better with North Carolina’s traditional neutral districting principles.”

Intervening plaintiff Common Cause objects to both the N.C. House and N.C. Senate maps. “The maps that the trial court approved fail to remedy the constitutional violations that this Court found in the November 2021 redistricting maps, and discretionary review and a stay is required to avert irreparable harm to North Carolina’s voters,” according to the left-of-center activist group’s brief.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, are also joining the fray. They have submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to block the remedial Senate plan. “The Senate plan is characterized by stark partisan asymmetry,” Cooper and Stein argued. “It will likely allow the favored party — and only the favored party — to exercise supermajority control when it receives just a slight majority of the votes. Conversely, the disfavored party will likely be prevented from exercising majority control (let alone supermajority control), even when it receives a significant majority of the votes.”