Earlier this week, the North Carolina Supreme Court heard two high-profile election law cases. The catch? These cases were already decided last year.
In February, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to rehear these cases—which is permissible under North Carolina law.
State legislative and federal congressional maps were initially overturned in the first case, Harper v. Hall:
The old 4-3 Democratic-majority state Supreme Court produced two party-line rulings in the Harper case. Harper I, issued in February 2022, cited several provisions of the N.C. Constitution to invent a new ban on partisan gerrymandering. The ruling prompted state lawmakers to redraw maps for N.C. House, N.C. Senate, and congressional elections.
Harper II, issued in December, upheld a trial court’s decision to throw out lawmakers’ redrawn congressional election map. Trial judges ended up substituting a map developed by outside consultants known as “special masters.” The state Supreme Court’s Harper II ruling also threw out lawmakers’ redrawn state Senate map, which had survived the trial court’s review.
State legislative leaders believed the outgoing Supreme Court made constitutional errors.
“It created a partisan gerrymandering claim out of whole cloth, out of multiple vague state constitutional provisions that do not say anything about partisanship in redistricting,” Strach said.
The second case in question, Harper v. Moore, concerns a 2018 voter ID law which requires photo ID to vote in-person:
Back in September 2021, a three-judge trial court threw out North Carolina’s voter ID law by a 2-1 vote. Two Democratic judges overruled a Republican colleague in deciding that the ID law was racially discriminatory and violated the N.C. Constitution.
Following the trial court ruling, defenders of voter ID asked the N.C. Court of Appeals to hear their appeal, while plaintiffs asked the state Supreme Court to intervene. The high court voted along party lines to hear the case just weeks before the 2022 general election, when two seats on the high court held by Democrats were up for grabs.
Legislative leaders accused ID opponents of “forum shopping” based on the contrasting partisan compositions of the two appellate courts. Republicans then outnumbered Democrats, 10-5, on the Appeals Court. Democrats outnumbered Republicans, 4-3, on the state Supreme Court.
The situation unfolding at the North Carolina Supreme Court shows how important often-overlooked judicial elections are. A press release from the North Carolina Republican Party explained:
The People of North Carolina rejected the Democrats' unconstitutional activism at the ballot box in 2022, electing a conservative majority to our State's highest court by the largest margins of victory for any statewide race. Instead of honoring the will of the people, the radical Democrat justices of the former court thumbed their noses at the People of North Carolina during a lame duck session by rushing these cases in support of their preferred partisan outcomes.
As RNLA previously highlighted, the North Carolina Supreme Court going red was one of the greatest victories of the 2022 election cycle.