State Senate Maps Must Be Redrawn; Discriminatory Voter ID Rules Remain Blocked
Nearing the end of its term, the North Carolina Supreme Court delivered two big wins for voting rights.
First, retiring Justice Robin Hudson wrote the Court’s majority opinion finding that State Senate maps used in this year’s elections were unconstitutionally biased on partisan grounds, and must be redrawn for the 2024 elections. The three-judge panel which oversaw the redrawing of maps for the 2022 elections was directed to oversee the new Senate map for 2024. NCLCV helped lead the challenge filed against the legislature’s unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps in this case.
“A districting plan must comply with the broader constitutional standard of upholding the right to vote on equal terms and to substantially equal voting power,” wrote Justice Hudson. Instead, she said, the Senate map “creates stark partisan asymmetry in violation of the fundamental right to vote on equal terms.”
“The North Carolina Supreme Court reaffirmed today that the state constitution protects the fundamental right to vote and ensures that North Carolina voters have substantially equal opportunity to translate votes into seats. Our clients are pleased with this ruling,” said Jessie Amunson, of Jenner & Block, LLP, Counsel of Record for the NCLCV et. al. Plaintiffs in the case.
Second, the Court ruled in the case of Holmes v. Moore that the law requiring every voter to present a photo identification when voting is unconstitutional because the state legislature enacted it “with an impermissible intent to discriminate against African-American voters in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.”
In its 4-3 decision, the court’s Democratic justices declined to change a 2021 lower-court ruling that voided the photo ID law. The lower court said the law violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution because it was tainted by racial bias.
“We hold that the three-judge panel’s findings of fact are supported by competent evidence showing that the statute was motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose,” Associate Justice Anita Earls wrote for the Court’s majority opinion. “The provisions enacted … were formulated with an impermissible intent to discriminate against African American voters in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.”
Justice Earls further noted that North Carolina “has a long history of race discrimination generally and race-based voter suppression in particular,” and that laws which disproportionately impact African-American voters may seem race-neutral on their face but in fact can have “profoundly discriminatory effects.”
Republican legislative leaders immediately responded with criticism of the Court’s ruling and noted their intention to pass yet another version of voter photo ID requirements. However, any such bill in the upcoming legislative term will have to be negotiated with Democratic lawmakers in the NC House in order to avoid or withstand a veto by Governor Roy Cooper.
In the longer term, both rulings by the current Supreme Court are subject to reconsideration in future cases by a Supreme Court with membership changed after the 2022 elections. Future elections for Court seats will be key to maintaining the rights which have been guaranteed by the current Court.