In a series of rulings issued Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court has made it harder for Democratic constituencies, particularly Black voters, to have their votes counted in the state. The decisions, which contradict earlier rulings from the court, come after Republicans gained a 5-2 majority in the state’s highest court after the 2022 election.
Partisan gerrymandering allowed to return
In perhaps the most controversial of Friday’s rulings, the Republican justices ruled that the NC Supreme Court had no power to question whether district lines in the state were drawn in an extremely partisan way. This ruling reverses a previous decision made by the court in which it objected to redistricdting done after the 2020 census in which district lines were drawn to heavily favor Republicans and disadvantage Democrats. By now saying that the Court had no power to rule in the case, the Republican justices are allowing the partisan map to stand and limiting the power of voting rights advocates to challenge such partisan redistricting schemes in the future. The North Carolina case had also been brought up before the United States Supreme Court, and this ruling may cause the US Supreme Court to drop the case according to Democratic lawyer Marc Elias.
🚨BREAKING: in 5-2 partisan split, North Carolina Supreme Court REVERSES prior decisions on partisan gerrymandering, saying it is now permitted.
➡️TAKE AWAY: This will almost certainly mean SCOTUS will not decide the controversial ISL theory this term. https://t.co/il4XmWuWY1
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) April 28, 2023
Voter ID law reinstated despite past rulings on racial intent
The Republican majority reversed another one of the NC Supreme Court’s recent decisions, this time allowing a controversial voter ID law to be implemented in the state. The voter ID law has been the subject of years of political and legal conflict in the state. Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 to allow the voter ID requirement, but a state senate bill to enact it was vetoed by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. When Republicans overrode this veto, the case went to court, and the NC Supreme Court ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional. Specifically, the ruling relied in part on a determination by a lower court that the voter ID law was enacted with racist intent, seeking to prevent Black residents from voting.
A similar law passed in 2013 was also struck down after records showed that Republicans specifically target Black voters, who were less likely to have state-issued IDs, with restrictive legislation like voter ID requirements. Friday’s ruling holds that the court cannot prove discriminatory interests drove the ID requirement.
Disenfranchising residents with felony convictions
Finally, one of Friday’s rulings upheld a requirement that effectively bars people with felony convictions from voting in North Carolina until all aspects of their sentences, including fines and fees, have been fulfilled. This requirement, which impacts more than 50,000 people in the state, had been called racist and exclusionary in the past due to its disproportionate impact on Black people in the state. In voting alongside his fellow Republicans to uphold the law, Justice Trey Allen ruled that “the General Assembly did not engage in racial discrimination or otherwise violate the North Carolina Constitution by requiring individuals with felony convictions to complete their sentences — including probation, parole, or post-release supervision — before they regain the right to vote.”
Together, these three rulings constitute huge victories for Republicans in North Carolina while alarming those who advocate for free and fair voting for all North Carolinians, including Black voters. Dr. Rev. William Barber II called this series of rulings a “a coup d’état by the North Carolina Supreme Court.” Rev. Barber added that “five Republicans—all white—with two African-Americans dissenting, decided to be the focal point of voter suppression in North Carolina.”
We just witnessed a political massacre and a coup d’état by the North Carolina Supreme Court. Five Republicans—all white—with two African-Americans dissenting, decided to be the focal point of voter suppression in North Carolina.
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) April 28, 2023
By issuing these rulings in defiance of previous court decisions, the Republicans justices in North Carolina appear set on rolling back voting rights in the state.