(CNN) The Republican-controlled North Carolina Supreme Court — reversing earlier rulings handed down when the state Supreme Court was heavily Democratic — said Friday that North Carolina’s constitution gives state courts no role in policing partisan gerrymanders.
The ruling was a victory for the GOP state legislature, bringing the case back to the state Supreme Court after Republicans flipped seats on the court in midterm elections, giving them a majority. The GOP legislature took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court — where Republicans have pushed for an invasive doctrine that limits the role state courts can play in election disputes — and it’s unclear whether Friday’s ruling prompts the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it. A case before that.
The North Carolina court’s new opinion “expressly reserves the power of reapportionment to the General Assembly subject to express limitations in the text of our Constitution.” “Those limits do not address partisan gerrymandering. It is not within this Court’s power to amend the Constitution to create such limits on a responsibility textually assigned to another branch. And, should this Court create such a limit? There is no judicially discernible or manageable standard for adjudicating such claims.”
The 5-2 opinion was written by Chief Justice Paul Newby, who was joined by four other Republican members of the court. Democratic Justice Anita Earls co-authored a dissent with fellow Democrat Justice Michael Morgan.
The ruling is a major loss for voting rights groups that challenged the congressional plan drawn up by the Republican Legislature after the 2020 census, as the ruling would prevent them from going to state court in the future. Against North Carolina maps.
“These are three tragic verdicts for voters across our state, brought to us by radical Republicans in control of our courts, designed specifically to silence voters, especially black and brown voters,” said North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Anderson Clayton. Clayton said. A statement. “We need to make voting easier — not harder.”
The North Carolina High Court’s conservative majority pointed to a 2019 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said federal courts cannot limit extreme gerrymandering on partisan grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling means redistricting reformers must rely on state constitutions to challenge partisan gerrymanders. But now, the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court has made that choice in North Carolina, opening the door for Republican lawmakers there to maintain their gains in the North Carolina House and Senate while reducing partisan gerrymandering and narrowing GOP margins in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The North Carolina Republican Party cheered Friday’s ruling.
“The people of North Carolina rejected the blatant activism of progressive judges by electing a strong majority of conservative judges,” North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement. These judgments are a big step towards restoring respect for the Constitution and taking politics out of the courtroom.
The next steps in the US Supreme Court case are unclear
Before the GOP won control of the state Supreme Court in November, the current U.S. Supreme Court held an appeal of a North Carolina case brought by a Republican legislature.
The case drew national attention because Republican lawmakers in North Carolina asked judges to uphold the long-dormant legal doctrine that state courts and other state agencies have a limited role in reviewing election rules established by state legislatures. Federal elections. A theory called the Independent State Legislature Theory was advanced by conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election. The US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in December, but has not issued a decision.
With two new North Carolina Supreme Court justices sworn in this year — giving Republicans a 5-2 majority — state Republicans asked the court in February to reconsider rulings that hit their maps.
That development prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to ask both sides to explain whether the justices still have the authority to hear the case or should dismiss it. Central to the question is whether the state court issued a “final ruling” in the case, clearing the way for a U.S. Supreme Court review.
In those filings, there was disagreement among Republican opponents of the case — which include voting rights groups, the U.S. Justice Department and the North Carolina Justice Department under state Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat — over how U.S. Supreme Court should be approached.
It may take some time for the US Supreme Court to say what it wants to do and whether it will dismiss the case before it. If the justices are debating the case now, it will at least allow them to weigh in on the independent state legislative doctrine for some time. A similar dispute arising out of Ohio has already been appealed to the US Supreme Court and if the justices decide to take up the case, it could provide another opportunity to consider the theory.
The U.S. Supreme Court may not say anything about what it will do next in the North Carolina case, as it is scheduled to issue opinions the next day, May 11. But the Supreme Court is likely to wait longer than that, until the end of this summer.
The ruling against the voter ID law was also reversed
The court also reversed its decision to block the state’s 2018 voter ID law.
Although the court said last year that the law was “motivated by racially discriminatory intent,” the New Republican majority said opponents of the law failed to demonstrate that it was “enacted with discriminatory intent or that the law actually creates a meaningful, racially disparate impact.”
As with the redistricting decision, the majority framed its decision as a return to a less politicized court.
“The people of North Carolina overwhelmingly support voter identification and other efforts to promote greater fairness and trust in our elections,” Judge Bill Berger Jr., son of state Senate President Pro Tempore, wrote for the majority.
“Subjective tests and judicial manipulation have systematically defeated the will of the people and the intent of the Legislature,” Berger continued. “But there is no court to vindicate political interests, and judges overstep constitutional boundaries when they act as a super-legislature. This court has traditionally stood against a wave of biased rulings in favor of the fundamental principle of equality under the law.”
Morgan took up that design in his dissent, which Earls joined, writing that the new Republican majority had “boldly emboldened themselves to impose partisan politics on the outcome of the present case.”
Morgan criticized the Court’s decision to reverse precedent, writing that “every presumption is in favor of the Court’s prior position” and that “prior majorities should overrule themselves only if they clearly misunderstood some important fact or overlooked clear and important authority.” contrary to its earlier judgment.”
“Instead of adhering to that lofty philosophy that has always permeated the structure of this Court, the majority prefers to sever both state and federal jurisprudence in order to demonstrate its audacity to achieve its objectives in the name of judicial restraint,” Morgan wrote.
CNN’s Diane Gallagher contributed to this story.