One group challenging North Carolina’s new election maps in court is distancing itself from debates about recusal of targeted N.C. Supreme Court justices.
In a court filing Wednesday, plaintiffs in the case dubbed N.C. League of Conservation Voters v. Hall responded to motions seeking the removal of as many as three justices from the case.
“This case raises urgent issues of statewide importance concerning the lawfulness of the redistricting maps the General Assembly enacted in
November 2021,” according to the document from attorney Stephen Feldman. “The NCLCV Plaintiffs-Appellants hope that, on a matter of such great consequence, every judicial officer who can participate — while respecting the constraints of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and other applicable standards — will do so.”
“Indeed, there is a substantial ‘negative impact [from] the unnecessary disqualification of even one Justice’ in cases, like this one, before a court of last resort, where ‘unlike the situation in a [lower court,] there is no way to replace a recused Justice,’” Feldman added, quoting a 2000 statement from former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
The NCLCV plaintiffs are grouped at the state Supreme Court with plaintiffs in a similar case titled Harper v. Hall. The left-of-center activist group Common Cause is also intervening in the case. All of them want North Carolina’s highest court to toss out new congressional and legislative election maps. Those maps are set to take effect for this year’s elections.
In contrast to the NCLCV plaintiffs, the Harper plaintiffs filed a Jan. 11 motion seeking disqualification of Republican Justice Phil Berger Jr. from the election maps case. Berger’s father is the top officer in the N.C. Senate. In that official capacity, Sen. Berger is a named defendant in the lawsuits.
Meanwhile, the maps’ Republican legislative defenders have filed separate requests for recusal from Democratic Justices Anita Earls and Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV.
Earls is targeted because of her close involvement with participants in the case. Ervin is the only Supreme Court justice running for re-election this year. His involvement in decisions about candidate filing and election dates could influence his own election, according to legislative defendants.
A Dec. 23 Supreme Court order ensures that Berger, Earls, and Ervin will have the opportunity to make individual decisions about whether to take part in the case. They can turn the decision over to a vote of their colleagues but are not required to do so.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the election maps case on Feb. 2.