Moore v Harper lawyers warn US Supreme Court about NC redistricting ruling

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  • Lawyers working on the U.S. Supreme Court's Moore v. Harper redistricting case have alerted the court to a related decision Friday from North Carolina's top court.
  • The N.C. Supreme Court has reversed an earlier decision that prompted Republican legislative leaders to seek a review from the nation's highest court.
  • Friday's decision in the Harper v. Hall case could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss Moore v. Harper as moot.

Lawyers representing both sides in a major U.S. Supreme Court case have alerted the court about a ruling from North Carolina that could affect the case’s outcome.

Attorneys in the Moore v. Harper redistricting case submitted a one-paragraph letter Wednesday to U.S. Supreme Court clerk Scott Harris.

“We represent Respondents and Petitioners” in Moore v. Harper, the letter stated. “We
write to notify the Court that on Friday, April 28, 2023, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued the attached decision in Harper v. Hall  We would be pleased to file supplemental briefs regarding the effect of the decision on this Court’s jurisdiction should the Court request them.”

Five different lawyers signed the letter. Three represent different sets of plaintiffs challenging legislative and congressional election maps drawn by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly. A fourth lawyer represents GOP legislative leaders. The fifth works for N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s state Justice Department.

The letter arrived five days after a 5-2 decision from the N.C. Supreme Court in Harper v. Hall. In that case, the court’s Republican justices reversed earlier decisions from 2022. In two related decisions last year, a court with a 4-3 Democratic majority determined that the N.C. Constitution banned “excessive” partisan gerrymandering. The court threw out lawmakers’ congressional and legislative election maps. In the case of the congressional map, special masters appointed by a trial court panel drew their own map for the 2022 election.

The first of those two 2022 state Supreme Court decisions prompted Republican legislative leaders to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal took the title Moore v. Harper. Lawmakers argued that the state Supreme Court exceeded its authority in tossing out the General Assembly s congressional map.

The nation’s highest court took the case. Justices heard oral arguments in Washington, D.C., in December. A decision had been expected by the time the court ends its current term around the end of June.

But the U.S. Supreme Court signaled as early as March 2 that justices were unclear about whether they should keep the case. By that time, the court had learned about the state Supreme Court’s Feb. 3 order granting a rehearing in Harper v. Hall.

A series of briefs from all parties in Moore v. Harper on March 20 addressed the issue of the U.S. Supreme Court maintaining jurisdiction in Moore v. Harper. Lawyers for the N.C. Justice Department urged the high court to dismiss the case, while legislators’ lawyers urged the court to keep the case and render a decision.

Plaintiffs split about whether the U.S. Supreme Court should offer a decision. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar filed a brief explaining how the Supreme Court could maintain jurisdiction over similar cases in the future, though “we do not believe that those arguments warrant the continued exercise of jurisdiction under the circumstances presented here.”

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide that the N.C. Supreme Court’s latest action makes the Moore v. Harper case moot. If so, justices will issue no formal opinion in the case.

That would mean no decision for now on the Independent State Legislature Theory. That’s a name N.C. lawmakers’ critics have used to describe their approach to state court oversight of election maps and other election rules.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not indicated if or when it will respond to the latest developments in North Carolina’s redistricting legal dispute.