WASHINGTON, D.C. — After yearslong litigation, a state Supreme Court flip and a decision reversal, North Carolina Republicans unveiled new congressional and legislative drafts as well as a county board of commissioners map this afternoon. Critically, the maps are not subject to gubernatorial veto.
As was suspected based on the struck-down 2021 maps, the new maps heavily favor the Republican Party, which holds a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature. The current congressional map — which was drawn by court-appointed experts and was only in place for the 2022 midterms — had seven Republican districts, six Democratic districts and only one competitive district. This remedial map yielded a 7-7 split in congressional delegates following the 2022 election. There are two newly released congressional map drafts.
According to Dave Wasserman, senior editor and elections analyst for Cook Political Report, the first version has 11 Republican districts and three Democratic districts, lacking a competitive district entirely. It also seems to double-bunk two of the state’s three Black representatives in Congress, Reps. Don Davis (D) and Valerie Foushee (D). The second version has 10 Republican districts, three Democratic districts and only one competitive district. Democratic Reps. Kathy Manning, Jeff Jackson and Wiley Nickel would all be eliminated and Davis would be drawn into a hard-to-win district with a substantially diluted Black voting population.
A joint statement from Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue and House Democratic Leader Robert Reives pointed out that these maps were drawn “behind closed doors” and Democratic legislators were reviewing these maps for the first time, too.
Why are the maps being redrawn?
In November 2021, a group of pro-voting parties sued over North Carolina’s congressional and legislative maps drawn with 2020 census data for allegedly being partisan gerrymanders that violated the state constitution.
- This redistricting lawsuit, Harper v. Hall, is the precursor to Moore v. Harper, the landmark case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this past June. North Carolina Republican legislators defended the legality of the challenged maps and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review North Carolina state courts’ involvement in congressional redistricting by invoking the radical independent state legislature (ISL) theory. Moore, while originally about North Carolina redistricting, ultimately sought review of the ISL theory, which asserts that under the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, only state legislatures can enact rules regulating federal elections, including congressional maps, without state-level judicial review. Since the state Supreme Court had struck down the congressional map, Republican legislators tried to use the ISL theory to skirt the court’s order.
In January 2022, a North Carolina trial court upheld all three maps, ruling that partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable (meaning they are not suitable for courts to rule on). The pro-voting parties then appealed this decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which held a month later that partisan gerrymandering claims are, in fact, justiciable and ruled 4-3 to strike down the legislative and congressional maps for being partisan gerrymanders in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.
In late February 2022, in accordance with the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the trial court adopted new state House and Senate remedial maps passed by the Legislature and an interim congressional map (for use only in the 2022 midterm elections) drawn by court-appointed special masters after rejecting the congressional map proposed by the Legislature. Various parties appealed the remedial maps; critically, the Republican legislators appealed the court-drawn interim congressional map to the U.S. Supreme Court — this appeal became Moore v. Harper.
Before the end of the year in mid-December, the then-Democratic majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to block the remedial state Senate map, uphold the remedial state House map and affirm the trial court’s rejection of the Legislature’s remedial congressional map. We’ll refer to this ruling as the December 2022 decision. The case then went back to the trial court for the drawing of a new state Senate map.
The partisan composition on the court shifted during the midterms, and on Jan. 1, 2023, two new Republican justices were sworn in to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court, creating a new 5-2 Republican majority.
Just 20 days after the court’s newly elected Republican majority was sworn in, the state’s Republican legislators asked the court to reopen the case and overturn its February and December 2022 decisions striking down the congressional and legislative maps. In a highly unprecedented move, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to rehear the case.
Going from one unprecedented move to the next, the court’s new Republican majority issued a 5-2 party-line opinion in April overturning its prior decision in Harper. With its reversal, the court ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable under the state constitution, clearing the way for today’s new maps.
Between the December 2022 decision and the April 2023 reversal, the only change was a shift in partisan control of the state’s highest court in the 2022 midterm elections.
The state Supreme Court’s reversal allowed the North Carolina Legislature to redraw district boundaries for Congress and both chambers of the Legislature. Immediately following the April ruling, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) pledged, “We will fulfill our constitutional duty to redraw state house, senate and congressional maps” — a promise realized today.
An inaccessible redistricting process is the modus operandi of North Carolina Republicans. As was the case in 2021, there was very limited opportunity for the public to advocate for their communities of interest in this most recent map redraw. Three public hearings were held, with no virtual option, during business hours in only three of North Carolina’s 100 counties and without any published map drafts. Even with these obstacles, advocates called out the lack of transparency and the damage further gerrymandering could have on communities across the state.
Given North Carolina’s long history of redistricting litigation, legal challenges to the new maps are expected. However, litigation will need to begin quickly if new maps are to be in place in time for the state’s March 5 primary. With new maps and districts come new candidates, but those seeking higher office will not have much time to decide if their would-be campaigns are viable. Candidate filing for 2024 begins Dec. 4 and closes Dec. 15.