N.C. Supreme Court will rehear redistricting, voter ID cases in March

N.C. Supreme Court Justice Trey Allen asks a question during oral arguments in a felon voting rights case. (Image from Supreme Court of North Carolina YouTube channel)

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  • The N.C. Supreme Court will rehear cases dealing with voter ID and statewide election maps in March.
  • Justices voted 5-2 to rehear the cases. Republican justices favored the decision. Democratic justices dissented.
  • The rehearings could affect election maps for the 2024 elections. They also could decide the fate of voter ID in North Carolina.

The N.C. Supreme Court has agreed to rehear cases involving state election maps and North Carolina’s challenged voter identification law. Justices voted 5-2 to rehear both cases in March.

The court’s five Republican justices voted for the new hearings. The two Democratic justices voted no. Republicans gained a 5-2 majority on the court in January after winning two seats in the November elections.

In Holmes v. Moore, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Dec. 16 to strike down North Carolina’s 2018 law mandating photo voter identification. The court’s Democrats outvoted Republicans in ruling that the law discriminated against minority voters.

In an order Friday evening signed by new Justice Trey Allen, the court ruled that state legislative leaders’ petition for rehearing “satisfies the criteria” set out in court rules.

Legislative leaders must file any additional documents in the case by Feb. 17. Voter ID critics can respond by March 3. “This matter will be placed on the 14 March 2023 calendar for rehearing,” according to the order.

“In their supplemental briefing, the parties shall address the following issues: (1) the issues raised in the petition for rehearing and (2) whether the operation of the challenged statute is impacted by the pending legal challenge to N.C. Const. Art. VI, Sec. 3(2), addressed by this Court in N.C. State Conf. NAACP v. Moore, 382 N.C. 129 (2022),” according to the order.

The N.C. NAACP v. Moore case challenged the 2018 voter-approved state constitutional amendment — Article VI, Section 3(2) — that mandated voter ID. The state Supreme Court sent the case back to a trial judge in August. The 4-3 Democrat-majority court set out guidelines for a trial judge to determine whether the amendment could be thrown out.

Justice Michael Morgan wrote for the Democrats dissenting from the Holmes v. Moore rehearing order.

“There is no aspect of the case at issue which is presented by petitioners in their Petition for Rehearing which meets the historically and purposely high standards to qualify for this Court’s exceedingly rare extension of the opportunity for a party which has already been fully heard by this Court through written submissions and oral arguments — followed by a studious and thorough analysis of the matters at issue which culminates in this Court’s issuance of its binding opinion — to be afforded yet another opportunity to be heard by this Court upon the party’s original unsuccessful efforts,” Morgan wrote. “The allowance of this extraordinary remedy to petitioners in this case, under the existent circumstances, may serve to foment concerns that North Carolina’s highest state court is engaged in the determination of challenging and legitimate legal disputes with a perceived desire to reach outcomes which are inconsistent with this Court’s well-established principles of adherence to legal precedent, stare decisis, and the rule of law.”

The same 4-3 Democratic majority from the outgoing 2022 state Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 16 in the Harper v. Hall redistricting case. The high court’s Democrats confirmed a trial court’s decision to throw out legislators’ second version of a congressional election map. The split Supreme Court also voted to reject the state Senate election map used in the 2022 election.

“Upon consideration of legislative-defendants’ petition and the arguments therein, this Court allows the petition for rehearing,” according to a separate order signed by Allen.

The parties in Harper v. Hall face the same briefing deadlines as in the voter ID case. Harper v. Hall also will appear on the state Supreme Court’s March 14 calendar.

“In addition to the issues raised in the petition for rehearing, the parties shall also brief the following issues: (a) Whether congressional and legislative maps utilized for the 2022 election, which were drawn at the direction of this Court, are effective for future elections; (b) What impact, if any, the following provisions of the North Carolina Constitution have on our analysis: Article II, Section 3(4) and Article II, Section (5)(4); and (c) What remedies, if any, may be appropriate,” according to the order.

The two cited state constitutional provisions set limits on redrawing legislative election maps more than once every 10 years. Article II, Section 3(4) reads: “When established, the senate districts and the apportionment of Senators shall remain unaltered until the return of another decennial census of population taken by order of Congress.” Article II, Section 5(4) uses nearly identical language to limit redrawing of state House districts.

The rehearing order also criticized plaintiff Common Cause, which had filed a motion Monday labeling the rehearing petition “frivolous.” Lawmakers responded Friday that Common Cause’s motion was “improper” and “meritless.”

“Plaintiff-intervenor’s filing responds substantively to legislative-defendants’ petition for rehearing. Such a filing is expressly not permitted by the Rules of Appellate Procedure and plainly violates Rule 31(c) and Rule 37(a),” the order stated. “Accordingly, we dismiss as frivolous plaintiff-intervenor’s motion to dismiss, and the filing is hereby stricken because it grossly violates appellate rules.”

Justice Anita Earls wrote for the Democrats dissenting from the Harper v. Hall rehearing order. “The majority’s order fails to acknowledge the radical break with 205 years of history that the decision to rehear this case represents,” Earls wrote. “It has long been the practice of this Court to respect precedent and the principle that once the Court has ruled, that ruling will not be disturbed merely because of a change in the Court’s composition.”

“Indeed, data from the Supreme Court’s electronic filing system indicate that, since January 1993, a total of 214 petitions for rehearing have been filed, but rehearing has been allowed in only two cases,” she added. “It has been the understood practice of this Court that rehearing is not allowed solely because a Justice may have had a change of heart after the opinion in the case has been issued or because an opinion was controversial.”

State lawmakers already plan to redraw the congressional election map for 2024 elections. The rehearing in Harper v. Hall will help determine whether legislators will also redraw maps for their own elections.

The outgoing state Supreme Court issued both the voter ID and redistricting decisions last December, little more than one month after voters replaced two Democratic justices with Republicans. Those two new justices took their oaths of office on Jan. 1, two weeks after the outgoing court issued its rulings.