By Tom Ozimek
The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday handed a victory to the state’s Republican legislators by siding with a petition that asked the high court to rehear cases involving election maps and voter identification laws.
In a vote along partisan lines, the state’s Supreme Court voted 5–2 to rehear the two cases in March—ones that North Carolina’s Republican legislature had previously lost.
Two Republicans running for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court in the November midterm election beat their Democrat opponents, flipping the composition of the court red for the first time since 2016.
The partisan switch of the court revived Republican hopes to revisit the cases.
In one of the cases, Holmes v. Moore, the state Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 16, 2022, to strike down a law requiring photo voter identification. The justification for that decision was supposed discrimination against minorities.
Justice Trey Allen wrote in an order Friday that the criteria for adjudicating the request by GOP legislative leaders for the case to be reheard have been met.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael Morgan questioned whether the decision to rehear the case would call into question the court’s impartiality.
In the other case, Moore v. Harper (formerly Harper v. Hall), the then Democrat-dominated court ruled on Dec. 16, 2022, to confirm a lower court decision to reject legislators’ version of a congressional election map and the state Senate election map.
Justice Allen wrote in a separate order that the court has found sufficient grounds to rehear the case.
The redistricting case has since made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has reportedly been considering whether to hand down a decision in the case that could have far-reaching consequences for the authority state court have to impose limits on how state legislatures set election rules.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Moore v. Harper on Dec. 7, 2022, but is not expected to rule on it for several months. This means that the North Carolina Supreme Court could potentially issue a ruling in the case that reverses the Republican loss before the U.S. Supreme Court has issued its decision.
Friday’s rulings by the North Carolina Supreme Court mean that both cases will be reheard on March 14, 2023.
In a recent legal filing, Republican lawmakers argued in Moore v. Harper that the North Carolina Supreme Court wrongfully infringed on state lawmakers’ ability to determine boundaries of legislative and congressional districts.
The court’s December ruling said that the state Senate boundaries redrawn previously by Republican legislators were tainted by partisan leanings and must be redrawn. It also ruled to uphold a congressional map drawn by lower court judges but that Republicans opposed.
A separate filing by Republican lawmakers argued that the correct legal standard was not applied in a decision that the state Supreme Court upheld on voter ID.
“Holmes was wrongly decided based on a predetermined outcome. We now have a chance to right this wrong and deliver on voter ID, which the voters of this state overwhelmingly support,” said Sam Hayes, general counsel for the House speaker, according to Spectrum News 1.
For more than a decade, North Carolina Republicans have been seeking to pass a law that would require voters to present photo identification. The state legislature passed voter ID laws in 2013, but they were struck down by a federal court. A similar law adopted in 2018 was struck down by the state Supreme Court in December.