North Carolina Supreme Court Issues Ruling Allowing Partisan Gerrymandering, Reversing Previous Decision

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court signaled today it will not provide a check on legislative efforts to discriminate against resident voters, vacating a prior decisions that protected voters against partisan gerrymandering in voting maps.

The state’s highest court allowed decisions in Harper v. Hall and Holmes v. Moore, issued in December of 2022, to be reheard following a change in the composition of the Court in January 2022, a rare and unprecedented step.

The Court also issued separate decisions reinstating racially discriminatory voter ID and revoking voting rights in another case for individuals with a felony conviction. In all three cases, the justices were split 5-2 along party lines to toss extensive factual findings from multi-week trials in the lower courts — a rarity saved for exceptional circumstances, of which none of the cases had.

No protections from partisan gerrymandering

Harper is a case brought by Common Cause North Carolina after lawmakers partisan gerrymandered legislative and Congressional maps to give Republicans an edge at the disproportionate expense of Black voters.

Justices ruled the high court did not have jurisdiction to weigh into partisan matters because the state Constitution contains no mention of partisanship in regards to elections. They granted GOP lawmakers’ request to not only reverse its December 2022 decision (Harper II) protecting voters from partisan gerrymandering but to also overturn its February 2022 decision (Harper I) arguing the standard articulated in that matter was flawed.

The Court also gave lawmakers power to redraw legislative and Congressional maps without any limitations on extreme partisan gerrymandering.

Read the full Harper decision here.

“Today’s decision marks a concerning and dramatic departure from the historic and important role our State Courts have played in protecting voters and providing a check on the Legislative branch,” said Hilary Harris Klein, Senior Counsel for Voting Rights at Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ). “Checks and balances are fundamental to our system of government, and we share the concern of the dissent that ‘the majority has already repeatedly revealed itself to be on a mission to pursue the agenda of this select few in the legislature.’ Like our client Common Cause, we will continue to pursue free and fair elections for all North Carolinians.”

Common Cause North Carolina is represented in Harper by Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel Hogan Lovells.

“This Supreme Court ruling will go down as one of the gravest assaults on democracy ever in North Carolina. Now, extreme partisan gerrymandering has been legalized and it will be weaponized against voters. That’s wrong,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “Undoubtedly, the justices who wrote this shameful decision know it’s wrong, as do the self-serving legislators who embrace gerrymandering. Today, we are seeing our constitutional protections surrendered to the whims of extremist politicians. We will not give up. We will oppose any attempt by politicians to engage in racist and partisan gerrymandering. The people of North Carolina will not be silenced.”

Justice Anita Earls wrote a 71-page dissent in Harper, saying the decision removes the Court’s ability to protect residents’ basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

“Despite its lofty prose about the need for principled adherence to the state Constitution, the majority follows none of these principles today,” Earls wrote. “Nor does the majority even pay passing reference to the anti-democratic nature of extreme partisan gerrymandering. These efforts to downplay the practice do not erase its consequences and the public will not be gaslighted.”

Because Harper is the underlying case to the U.S. Supreme Court case Moore v. Harper, justices at the federal level asked parties in early March to submit additional briefs on whether or not the highest court still has jurisdiction in the case. Common Cause, through its attorneys at SCSJ and Hogan Lovells, argued that the U.S. Supreme Court is still the proper venue to decide this important case about the future of checks and balances in our election processes.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet responded to those briefs, but Common Cause remains hopeful the Court will reject the fringe independent state legislature theory presented in Moore.

“Today, in a highly partisan decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court shredded the state’s constitutional protection of free and fair elections, siding with power-hungry politicians to strip every voter of the right to cast a ballot without political manipulation, and taking away our freedom to determine the future of our families and our neighborhoods,” said Kathay Feng, Vice President of Programs for Common Cause. “We now await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Moore v. Harperto determine if it will uphold the checks and balances enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions, or if it will give absolute power to state politicians to manipulate our federal elections and undermine our votes.”

Common Cause North Carolina is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.