The Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled against the Republican Party’s redistricting plans for the state of North Carolina in a 4–3 vote on Friday, calling the maps, “unlawful partisan gerrymanders.”
All four Democrats on the state’s highest court voted against the plan while the remaining three Republican justices dissented. The court also ordered the GOP to present new redistricting maps by 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 18.
After the 2020 census, North Carolina gained an additional congressional seat, taking the total number of congressional seats for the state to 14. The GOP’s proposed redistricting would have potentially given the party 11 seats, leaving Democrats with only three. At present, Democrats hold five seats and Republicans eight.
In the ruling, the Supreme Court said that the GOP’s redistricting plan is unconstitutional unless the General Assembly demonstrates that the plan will advance a “compelling governmental interest.” A redistricting plan aimed at boosting a political party’s voter support is not a compelling or legitimate governmental interest, the ruling insisted.
In his dissent, Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby stated that the court does not have the power to override the redistricting maps proposed by the legislature. The court’s decision violates the principle of separation of powers by assuming the responsibility of redistricting to the judicial branch rather than the legislative branch as mandated in the state constitution.
He also said the court failed to provide a “manageable standard” to determine the constitutionality of a proposed redistricting plan.
By ruling against the GOP’s plan, the majority justices “moved beyond traditional judicial justice-making” and have embraced the idea of judicially amending the state constitution. “Unless and until the people alter the law to either limit or prohibit the practice of partisan gerrymandering, this Court is without any satisfactory or manageable legal standard and thus must refuse to resolve such a claim,” Newby said in his dissent.
Phil Strach, an attorney representing Republican lawmakers, pointed out that the court’s decision harms its credibility. The mere possibility that the court might strike down a redistricting plan is already making people look at the court like a legislature rather than solely as a court. “The damage to this court has already begun,” Strach told the justices.
Democrats applauded the court decision, with North Carolina Attorney General Democrat Josh Stein calling the ruling “fantastic news” for voters and the “health of our democracy.”
North Carolina’s Democrat Governor Roy Cooper said that the court is right to order the redrawing of maps. Any redraws must be made while keeping in mind the “full intent” of the court decision.
Meanwhile, Republicans criticized the court ruling as being politically biased. “What a shock. 4-3 decision. Only Democrat judges struck down maps drawn by a Republican legislature. For 140 years of unbroken Democrat rule, they failed to see a problem. Elections for the Supreme Court majority are around the corner,” Republican Representative Dan Bishop said in a tweet.
Once the GOP submits the new maps on Feb. 18, a panel of three judges will have to approve them. The maps then need to be approved by the lower court by Feb. 23. The maps must be finalized before this year’s primary elections that are scheduled to be held in May. 17.