North Carolina’s highest court will hear redistricting cases with national implications

North Carolina’s highest court will hear redistricting cases with national implications

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – A new conservative majority on North Carolina’s top court will consider on Tuesday whether to overturn last year’s court decision outlawing partisan redistricting, a move that would embolden Republicans ahead of 2024 congressional elections.

But a reversal for Republicans could be a mixed bag. After the North Carolina Supreme Court decided to reconsider the matter last month, the US Supreme Court indicated it may avoid a ruling in a related case in which Republicans asked state legislatures to grant judges new powers over federal elections.

The North Carolina Supreme Court’s then-Democratic majority threw out a Republican-drawn congressional map last year, ruling the state constitution does not allow lawmakers to manipulate district lines for partisan advantage, a process known as gerrymandering.

As a result, the November midterm elections were held under a court-approved map with Democrats and Republicans evenly splitting the state’s 14 congressional seats.

But Republican candidates flipped two seats on the court, giving conservatives a 5-2 majority. The new court agreed to rehear the redistricting case along party lines, as well as a case in which a previous Democratic majority struck down a Republican-backed voter identification law.

Legal experts say the decision to rehear the cases suggests the new majority is ready to overturn the court’s earlier rulings. A Republican-drawn congressional map would likely give the party three or four additional seats, helping bolster a razor-thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

“I think most people who are watching this, myself included, will not be surprised or shocked if the decisions go in a partisan direction,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College and author of a book about the state’s history of redistricting. .

In court filings, Republican lawmakers argue that redistricting is inherently political and should be left to legislators rather than judges. Good government groups, including Common Cause, have countered that gerrymandering harms democracy and that rulings should not be overturned because of changes in the partisan makeup of the courts.

Last year’s redistricting decision forced North Carolina Republicans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in a high-profile case.

Republicans have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a controversial legal theory, the doctrine of independent state legislatures, that would prevent state courts from reviewing lawmakers’ actions on federal elections, giving lawmakers unfettered authority over voting rules and redistricting.

Democrats warn that doing so would invite a flood of new restrictions that would threaten fair elections, while Republicans say it would suspend activist state courts that are undermining legislative power.

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices were sympathetic to Republicans’ arguments during oral arguments in December. But after the North Carolina Supreme Court decided to rehear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the parties to judge whether the court still had jurisdiction.

If the justices decide they no longer have jurisdiction, they can dismiss the case without issuing a ruling.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colin Jenkins and Rosalba O’Brien)

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