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Republican-led NC Supreme Court overturns decisions on redistricting maps, voter ID

 A 2016 photo of the North Carolina state Supreme Court building.
Tim Stewart
via Flickr
A 2016 photo of the North Carolina state Supreme Court building.

Updated at 3:55 p.m.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has overturned its previous ruling that struck down redistricting maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.

The ruling from the court’s new Republican majority says the state constitution gives redistricting power to the legislature, not the judicial branch.

"There is no judicially manageable standard by which to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims. Courts are not intended to meddle in policy matters," wrote state Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, in the majority opinion in Harper v. Hall.

Justice Anita Earls, one of two Democrats on the court, wrote in the dissenting opinion that in the prior ruling, a "Democratic-controlled Court carried out its sworn duty to uphold the state constitution’s guarantee of free elections, fair to all voters of both parties."

The Republican-controlled court now seeks to "ensure that extreme partisan gerrymanders favoring Republicans are established," she continued.

Republican legislators should now have greater latitude in drawing legislative seat boundaries for the next decade that will reinforce their General Assembly majorities and assist them in winning more seats within the state's congressional delegation. Previous redistricting rulings in early 2022 had led to a congressional map that resulted in Democrats winning seven of the state's 14 states.

Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, responded to the ruling by saying "Republican legislators wanted a partisan court that would issue partisan opinions and that's exactly what this is."

Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein also shared sharp criticism, calling the ruling "a devastating blow to democracy."

The new edition of the court — which became a Republican majority this year following the election of two GOP justices — ruled after taking the unusual step of revisiting opinions made in December by the court’s previous iteration, when Democrats held a 4-3 seat advantage. The court held re-hearings in March.

Return of voter ID requirement

In another ruling issued Friday, the Supreme Court restored a constitutional amendment requiring voters to show IDs at the polls. That requirement was blocked last year when Democrats held a majority on the court.

Voter ID could now take effect for future elections after Republican justices determined that it doesn’t create racial discrimination.

Senate leader Phil Berger responded Friday to the batch of rulings.

"For years plaintiffs and activist courts have manipulated our Constitution to achieve policy outcomes that could not be won at the ballot box," said Berger in a statement. "Today's rulings affirm that our Constitution cannot be exploited to fit the political whims of left-wing Democrats."

The 5-2 decisions are likely to mean that a photo ID mandate approved by the GOP-controlled legislature in late 2018 will be enforced for the 2024 elections.

Both rulings were along party lines.

The court on Friday also overturned a trial court decision on when the voting rights of convicted felons can be restored. That means potentially tens of thousands of people convicted of felonies will have to keep waiting to complete their probation or parole or pay their fines to qualify to vote again.

WUNC's Mitch Northam contributed to this report.

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