WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Jan. 20, North Carolina Republican legislators asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to rehear a case over the state’s congressional and legislative maps, a blatantly partisan move after control of the state Supreme Court flipped to red in the 2022 midterm elections. Notably, the same case, Moore v. Harper, is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The complicated procedural background of this case started in late 2021 when good government groups and voters filed several lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s new congressional and legislative maps drawn with 2020 census data. The lawsuits, later consolidated under Harper v. Hall, argued that the newly enacted districts were partisan gerrymanders that unduly favored Republicans in violation of the North Carolina Constitution. A trial court held that partisan gerrymandering claims aren’t justiciable — meaning capable of being decided by a court — under the North Carolina Constitution, but on Feb. 4, 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court and ruled 4-3 to strike down all three sets of maps for violating the state constitution. Following the order, a trial court adopted fairer remedial maps. Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature then brought the remedial congressional map to the U.S. Supreme Court. While emergency relief was denied, the case was placed on the Court’s merits docket and infamously opened up review of a fringe constitutional theory.
At the same time that the case dealing with the congressional map was before the U.S. Supreme Court, all three maps continued to be challenged by various plaintiffs in North Carolina state court. On Dec. 16, 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court once again issued a 4-3 ruling, blocking the remedial state Senate map for not properly accounting for its partisan breakdown, another confirmation that the Tar Heel State’s courts have a mechanism under state law for rejecting partisan gerrymanders.
The state Supreme Court’s pro-voting rulings fell along partisan lines, with four Democratic judges in favor and three Republican judges in opposition. However, in the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans retook control of the court and now enjoy a 5-2 majority. In light of this change in composition, Republicans in the state Legislature — the defendants in the case — have asked the court to rehear the lawsuit regarding all three maps. In today’s petition, the legislative defendants ask the court to overturn the previous decision striking down the congressional and legislative maps as partisan gerrymanders (what they call “Harper I“). Additionally, the petition asks for the court to rehear its December 2022 decision that struck down the revised state Senate Map for partisan gerrymandering (what they call “Harper II“). “This Court should grant rehearing in Harper II, withdraw its opinion, issue a new opinion overruling Harper I by holding that partisan-gerrymandering claims present non-justiciable political questions,” the petition concludes. “[T]he proper remedy is to command that this action be dismissed and afford the General Assembly the opportunity to fulfill its redistricting obligations free from erroneous judicial interference.” The GOP lawmakers want to redraw their gerrymanders free from judicial accountability; today’s petition reveals that they believe they have a chance to make that happen after the court flipped control.