North Carolina supreme court sides with right on redistricting, Voter ID

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

Friday, the supreme court of North Carolina overruled itself in two cases – one about the state’s redistricting efforts and another regarding the Voter ID – that could have a major impact on the election of 2024. 

In the case in which the left and right fought over redistricting, a process Democrats have called highly partisan and gerrymandered, the court found there was “no judicially manageable standard by which to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims.” Moreover, the conservative majority of justices ruled that it was beyond the authority of the court “to meddle in policy matters.”

Put another way, the court ruled that any voting district lines are appropriate so long as the legislature deems them so and that courts that intercede in the redistricting process were exceeding their authority. 

“This case is not about partisan politics but rather about realigning the proper roles of the judicial and legislative branches,” Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the majority. “Today we begin to correct course, returning the judiciary to its designated lane.”

The case really comes down to the barrier between the concepts of the separation of powers and checks and balances. 

Democrats have accused the court of failing to provide a check to the state legislature. But Republicans in the legislature argue that the U.S. Constitution grants the state house and senate the ability to operate as an “independent state legislature” with the authority to determine how federal elections are conducted in North Carolina without any checks and balances from state courts. 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments surrounding the North Carolina redistricting case last December, and even some conservative justices expressed doubt that the Constitution grants any state governing body that much unchecked power. However, the court has not yet issued a ruling. 

North Carolina Democrats, chief among them Gov. Roy Cooper, further allege that the court issued a ruling based on party fealty rather than law.  

“The Republican State Supreme Court has ignored the constitution and followed the marching orders of the Republican legislature by declaring open season for their extreme partisan gerrymandering and is destroying the court’s reputation for independence,” Cooper said in a statement. “Republican legislators wanted a partisan court that would issue partisan opinions, and that’s exactly what this is.”

The case had originally been heard under a Democrat-controlled state supreme court last year, but when Republicans gained control of the court after the 2022 midterms, they heard the case again. 

“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,” Justice Anita Earls wrote in dissent. “This decision is now vacated by a Republican-controlled Court seeking to ensure that extreme partisan gerrymanders favoring Republicans are established.” 


The redistricting case was one of two voting-related cases the conservative-leaning court reheard and reversed.

Justices also overruled a ruling of the then-Democrat-controlled court that struck the state’s 2018 Voter ID law. 

“Today, the will of the people has been heard,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the well-known Republican who is seeking to unseat Cooper in 2024. “In 2018 55% of North Carolinians voted to make Voter ID law in our state. After years of lawsuits and activist judges ignoring the people, North Carolina will officially have Voter ID.”

Plaintiffs had alleged Voter ID laws were discriminatory, a claim with which the Democratic-led court agreed but which the now-Republican-led court ruled plaintiffs had failed to prove. 

Key in the court’s findings was the fact that the North Carolina Voter ID law is so broad that it appears virtually impossible for any citizen to not be able to participate in an election. 

The law allows for seven different forms of acceptable identification, permits citizens with recently expired IDs to still vote, requires county boards to issue upon request free voter ID cards that are valid for 10 years, and provides measures by which people who still cannot produce valid identification to cast provisional ballots. 

“This law is one of the least restrictive voter identification laws in the United States,” Justice Phil Berger Jr. wrote for the majority. He later added, “North Carolina’s photo identification statute does not require that an individual present a photo identification to vote.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael Morgan criticized the court for rehearing a previously concluded case and conservative justices for requiring too high a burden of proof for the plaintiffs. 

“This majority’s extraordinarily rare allowance of a petition for rehearing in this case, mere weeks after this newly minted majority was positioned on this Court and mere months after this case was already decided by a previous composition of members of this Court, spoke volumes,” Morgan wrote. “My consternation with the majority’s abrupt departure from this Court’s institutionalized stature—historically grounded in this forum’s own  reverence for its [case law] precedent, its deference to the rule of law, and its severance from partisan politics—is colossal.”

Morgan also gave a history of the federal cases that were tried from the nation’s founding through the Civil Right movement, cases Morgan said spoke of the necessity of courts to establish “an equilibrium between presuming legislative good faith, while remaining cognizant of the insidious nature of discriminatory intent as a potential motivation for facially neutral legislative acts.”

In short, Morgan argued that although the Voter ID law might seem harmless, the court should nonetheless treat the law as though it could be abused. 

“Courts are not obliged to turn a blind eye to the historical circumstances that might inform present-day efforts to encumber, restrict, or otherwise discourage the exercise of the precious right to vote,” Morgan wrote.