Just before New Year’s Eve, North Carolina Republicans filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Justices to block a lower court ruling that found the GOP guilty of racially gerrymandering the state in order to stay in power. If their bid succeeds, the state legislature elections that were supposed to be held this year could be canceled.
A federal district court found in November that 28 of North Carolina’s 100 districts were unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered — drawn in a way that packs African American voters into as few seats as possible in order to make the surrounding districts easier for Republicans to win. That gerrymandering has allowed North Carolina Republicans to maintain a veto-proof supermajority in the state assembly even as the state’s popular vote is been split nearly evenly between the Republicans and Democrats. The court ordered state leaders to draw new maps by March and hold special elections in those districts later this year. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the new maps could upend political control of the southern swing state.
The new Republican petition calls the claims of racial gerrymandering “erroneous,” “highly debatable,” and “so obviously wrong,” and accuses the District Court of robbing the legislators elected in November of the right to serve their full two-year terms. Election law expert and University of California Irvine professor Rick Hasen has a different take: “The goal here is to preserve as much Republican power in the state as possible despite the election of a Democratic governor, attorney general, and now majority on the State Supreme Court.”
The lawsuit is just one of many steps the state GOP has taken to make sure newly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who won by a razor-thin margin and takes office this week, has as little power as possible. Just before the holidays, in an emergency special session, the Republican majority passed a bill that drastically cut back how many political appointments Cooper will be able to make when he takes office, and another that remakes the state Board of Elections and all county elections boards so that Republicans control them in all even-numbered years — meaning every year there’s a major election.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bills into law just before leaving office, but his successor sued on Friday.
“This complex new law passed in just two days by the Republican legislature is unconstitutional and anything but bipartisan,” Cooper said in a statement. He added that the election board changes “would accomplish what many Republicans want: making it harder for North Carolinians to vote.”
The Wake County Superior Court agreed, and put a hold on the law until they conduct “a more complete hearing on the legal issues, the constitutional issues.” That hearing is scheduled for Thursday.