RECAP: NC Supreme Court Rehears Arguments on Harper v. Hall Voting Rights Case
RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican lawmakers want supreme power when it comes to deciding what’s fair in electoral mapmaking their attorney told the North Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday in oral argument for the Harper v. Hall rehearing.
In Harper, the North Carolina Supreme Court held in February 2022 the North Carolina Constitution protects against extreme partisan gerrymandering, confirming once again that state courts have a role to play in ensuring the constitutionality of electoral maps drawn by the General Assembly.
Counsel who argued for the legislative defendants in the case said the courts did not have jurisdiction to weigh into partisan matters because the state Constitution contains no mention of partisanship in regards to elections. They requested the Court not only vacate the December 2022 remedial order being reheard, Harper II, but also overturn its February 2022 decision in Harper I, arguing the standard articulated in that matter was flawed.
“Are you saying because the word ‘fair’ does not appear in the constitution, that elections do not have to be fair?” asked Justice Michael Morgan. “That it’s alright for them to have pre-determined outcomes based on where the legislature decides where to draw the lines?”
Counsel for legislative defendants maintained the issue of fairness should be left up to the people, not bodies like the judiciary or executive branch.
“Except how can it be left up to the people, because if the maps don’t fairly reflect the voting strength of the people of the state, aren’t you essentially seeking to prevent voters from exercising their own control over the government?” asked Justice Anita Earls.
Common Cause North Carolina is represented in Harper by Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and co-counsel Hogan Lovells. The case was brought after lawmakers gerrymandered maps to give Republicans an edge at the disproportional expense of Black voters.
“The state Supreme Court got it right a year ago when it ruled partisan gerrymandering violates North Carolina’s Constitution,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina. “The evidence is overwhelming and it is clear: lawmakers illegally manipulated our state’s voting maps for their own advantage, undermining North Carolinians’ freedom to vote. Gerrymandering causes incalculable harm to the people of our state and it must end.”
Justice Earls also asked if legislative defendants’ arguments would require overruling that long-established precedent regarding constitutional standards for redistricting. She pointed out that throughout history, there have been several cases where the Court has interpreted broad constitutional provisions to create constitutional limitations that maps must adhere, like fairness or compactness.
Lali Madduri, of the Elias Law Group, and Sam Hirsch, of Jenner & Block, argued on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case and fielded heavy questioning from the active bench. They said the facts of the case stood and urged Justices not to grant lawmakers’ requests.
“The petition for rehearing in this case was filed because of a change in composition of the court, and as we heard in the arguments today, every argument about partisan gerrymandering was fully considered by the Supreme Court already in the prior decisions,” said Hilary Harris Klein, Senior Counsel for Voting Rights at SCSJ. “Those decisions were right on the facts and they were right on the law and there is no reason to be revisiting the issue.”
Before the hearing, a coalition of pro-democracy groups that include Common Cause NC and SCSJ held a People’s Rally, reaffirming their commitment to the fight for the preservation of North Carolinians’ constitutional rights.
“North Carolina has been and continues to be a testing ground for voting suppression as far back as the poll taxes and 1971 redistricting tactics that were used to exclude Black voter engagement,” said Debra Dicks Maxwell, President of the NC NAACP, at the rally. “I am a fierce advocate for civil rights, and I assure you that we will not back down.”
Common Cause 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.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, founded in 2007, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing, and communications. Learn more at southerncoalition.org and follow our work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.