NC Supreme Court declares GOP-drawn redistricting map unconstitutional

In a decision North Carolina Republicans did not see coming, the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week that the party’s new political district maps are unconstitutional and must be redrawn by the legislature within a matter of weeks, as the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

The newly-structured districts were created by GOP legislators in late 2021 based on 2020 federal census data and would have resulted in a significant advantage for Republicans in congressional and General Assembly elections over the next 10 years.

While GOP leaders argued that the maps should be permitted to stand because the redistricting process is political by its very nature, and courts should not intervene, the Democrat-majority high court in the state rule otherwise, in a 4-3 party-line vote.

The opinion declared that the new district maps were so imbalanced in favor of Republicans that they represented a violation of the state’s constitution under the “free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause and the freedom of assembly clause… .”

According to the court’s order, the state legislature finds itself in violation of the constitution “when it deprives a voter of his or her right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation,” adding, “[a]chieving partisan advantage incommensurate with a political party’s level of statewide voter support is neither a compelling nor a legitimate governmental interest.”

As NPR noted, the state’s high court ordered the Republican-led legislature to take another crack at drawing district lines by a deadline of Feb. 18 and to deliver an explanation of the manner in which partisan fairness of the reconstituted boundaries was established.

Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby authored a dissenting opinion in which he argued that courts did not possess the authority to override the legislature’s decisions on redistricting, adding that the majority’s decision “violates separation of powers by effectively placing responsibility for redistricting with the judicial branch, not the legislative branch as expressly provided in our constitution.”

GOP redistricting official Sen. Ralph Hise blasted the decision, suggesting that the Democrats on the high court are doing the bidding of the interest groups that helped elect them, stating, “This perverse precedent, once set, will be nearly impossible to unwind, as monied interests line up to buy their own justices to set law favorable to them. I’m certain Democrats will come to regret it.”

The North Carolina decision is the most recent in a series of redistricting rulings favoring Democrats, with Republican-drawn maps being struck down in Ohio as well as in Alabama, with the latter controversy currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and precisely how these outcomes will impact electoral results in the coming years is something that remains to be seen.