N. Carolina judges hand GOP big wins with election rulings

RALEIGH, NC (AP) — In a major victory for Republicans, the newly GOP-controlled North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday overturned an earlier ruling against gerrymandered voting maps and upheld a photo voter ID law that colleagues said was racially offensive.

The partisan gerrymandering verdict As state lawmakers redraw congressional boundaries, the Republican-dominated Legislature should make it significantly easier for the GOP to pick up seats in the narrowly divided U.S. House. For the 2024 elections. According to the current map, Democrats won seven of the state’s 14 congressional seats last November.

The court, which became a Republican majority this year following the election of two GOP justices, ruled after taking the unusual step of reconsidering redistricting and voter ID concepts. The court’s previous redistricting was in December, when Democrats held the seat 4-3. The court held a hearing in March.

Friday’s 5-2 ruling gives state lawmakers more latitude in drawing General Assembly seat boundaries for elections next year and later in the decade, and may soon implement a voter ID law approved by the Legislature in late 2018.

In another court ruling Friday, state judges overturned a trial court ruling on when people convicted of felonies can vote. are restored. That means tens of thousands of people must pay any fines to complete their probation or parole and become eligible to vote again.

Republican lawmakers celebrated the positive results of the state Supreme Court’s reversal. Outside groups spent millions In two Supreme Court campaigns in 2022.

“The decisions handed down today by the NC Supreme Court affirm our respect for our Constitution and the will of the people of North Carolina,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release.

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But the remaining Democratic justices and their allies criticized the rulings for redistricting and setting new precedents on voter ID.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who leads the Democratic National Committee, whose subsidiary helped support the redistricting case, called Friday’s remapping decision “an operation of political operatives and partisan opportunism” by Republicans.

“History will not be kind to this court’s majority, which will now irrevocably stain the fairness and reputation of North Carolina’s highest tribunal,” Holder said.

Chief Justice Paul Newby, writing the majority opinion in the redistricting case, said the previous Democratic majority erred by declaring that the state constitution outlawed expansive partisan gerrymandering. Last year, the court struck down the maps The General Assembly was drawn because they claimed it gave Republicans a greater electoral advantage relative to their voting power.

But Newby said the plain language of the Constitution does not contain a partisan gerrymandering ban. He argued that current and former colleagues who had declared otherwise had wrongfully usurped power from the General Assembly, which it designates as the framers of state constitutions.

“In its decision today, the Court returns to its tradition of respecting the constitutional roles assigned to each branch,” Newby wrote. “This case is not about partisan politics, but about realigning the proper roles of the judicial and legislative branches.”

Associate Justice Anita Earls, writing a dissenting opinion, said last year the court correctly ruled to ensure that all North Carolina residents “regardless of political party are not denied their ‘fundamental right to vote on an equal footing.’

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North Carolina Republicans appealed the congressional map decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to expand the powers of state legislatures at the expense of state courts in matters related to congressional redistricting and elections.

The US justices heard oral arguments in December But then the legal parties were asked what the outcome of the State Supreme Court’s review of the case would be. Responses varied, but the court recommended that President Joe Biden’s administration dismiss the case ahead of Friday’s state court ruling.

On voter ID, the Republican majority reversed a trial court ruling that struck down the 2018 law. The trial court ruled that GOP legislators enacted the law to maintain control of the General Assembly by discouraging black Democrats from voting in legislative elections. But associate judge Phil Berger Jr. wroteIn part, the trial judges erred in relying on a federal court ruling that found the 2013 voter ID law tainted by racial discrimination.

While a federal lawsuit challenging the voter ID law is still pending, the state Board of Elections said Friday that staff will begin working to “smoothly roll out” the ID requirement with municipal elections this fall.

Voters previously approved a separate photo voter ID mandate for the state constitution, though that amendment has been mired in litigation that did not affect Friday’s ruling.

In the process of restoring voting rights, the court upheld a law passed in 1973 — when Democrats controlled the Legislature — that automatically restored voting rights to “a prisoner, a probationer or parolee upon his unconditional discharge.”

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A panel of trial court judges announced last year That law disproportionately harmed black criminals and was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the 1973 law had its roots in Reconstruction-era efforts by white politicians to deliberately prevent black people from voting.

Most of the people affected by the law — about 56,000 people on probation, parole or supervision during the 2021 hearing — had a chance to vote last November.

Shakita Norman, a plaintiff in the 2022 voting case, called Friday’s decision “simply wrong. If you say we can’t vote anymore, are you also saying we don’t have to pay taxes? This is not right.”

Associate judge Trey Allen wrote The majority opinion held that the trial court “wrongly imputed” the discriminatory views of 19th-century legislators who later “made it easier for qualified felons of all races to regain their right to vote.”

“It is not unconstitutional to insist that felons pay their debt to society as a condition of participating in the electoral process,” Allen wrote.


Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

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