Conservatives have a good reason to thank Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general during the Obama era.

No, that’s not a joke.

Holder’s most recent appearance in North Carolina paints a clear picture for those on the political right. Behind the veil of good government and constitutional safeguards, Holder revealed his latest partisan plan to “sue ’til its blue.”

Speaking Feb. 19 in Chapel Hill, Holder warned that he’ll likely take legal action against North Carolina’s legislative leaders again this year. The reason for his almost-guaranteed complaint? The state’s new congressional election map.

“North Carolina really is, in some ways, ground zero for partisan and racial gerrymandering,” Holder told an audience at the UNC law school, according to a report in the News & Observer. “And the only way, I think, to crack that which is happening in North Carolina is through the courts, and use those decisions to get a more fair congressional delegation from North Carolina.”

Holder issued his warning before seeing a single piece of new census data that will influence North Carolina’s next congressional election map. He spoke before hearing the new General Assembly utter a single word about the redistricting process that will produce the map. And, of course, he predicted legal action before seeing a new map itself.

Why then is Holder so confident that he’ll be back in court? Because Republicans will control the redistricting process again in 2021, as they have since winning control of the General Assembly more than a decade ago.

GOP control of the electoral redistricting process dictates that Holder and like-minded professional partisans will cry foul.

It doesn’t matter that Republicans oversaw the most open redistricting process in state history in 2019. The process featured live, video-streamed committee meetings. Legislative leaders adopted base maps developed by Democratic experts. Most, if not all, amendments to those maps accommodated concerns raised by Democratic legislators.

The process generated a map virtually guaranteeing Democrats a net gain of two seats within North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation. That’s exactly what happened in November 2020, as 2nd and 6th District seats previously held by Republicans moved easily into the Democratic win column.

Those victories shifted the congressional delegation from 10-3 in Republicans’ favor to 8-5. Had Democrats been able to pick up another 25,000 voters in the 8th District and 45,000 in the 9th District, they would have secured a 7-6 majority within the delegation. Add to those two results another 55,000 Democratic votes in the 11th District, and Democrats would have secured an 8-5 advantage, a mirror image of today’s Republican majority.

Yet North Carolina needs costly, time-consuming legal action to secure a “more fair congressional delegation”?

No legislative committees have met yet to discuss the latest round of redistricting. But legislative leaders have signaled an interest in pursuing the same type of process that produced the current map.

Neither the 2020 results, nor legislative leaders’ commitment to an open redistricting process, appear to satisfy Holder. He doesn’t need to see facts on the ground before predicting openly that he’ll be back in court.

“We come back, and I think we’ll keep winning, as many times as it takes,” Holder said in the Chapel Hill speech.

Top legislators aren’t surprised. “Eric Holder is the worst kind of phony partisan operator,” a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told the N&O. “He pretends to care about ideals like ‘fair maps,’ but it’s just a veneer to hide his true partisan goal of electing more Democrats.”

For proof, the spokesman pointed to the half million dollars the N.C. Democratic Party collected in the 2018 election cycle from a political action committee tied to Holder. The same PAC spent money that year to help elect its favored Democratic candidate to the N.C. Supreme Court, which ultimately determines outcomes of redistricting lawsuits tied to the state constitution.

Holder is preparing now for another court fight later this year and into 2022. As his Chapel Hill speech conveys, the former attorney general is making no effort to hide those preparations.

For that candor, conservatives should be grateful. They should prepare for redistricting with complete confidence that Holder and his allies will object to whatever process Republicans adopt for drawing new maps. Conservatives should expect opposition, even when they ultimately invite Democratic contributions and amendments.

And it’s all but certain they should expect lawsuits — along with Democratic “no” votes — when they ultimately adopt a new map.

Republican legislative leaders should follow redistricting laws carefully. They should comply completely with prior court precedents. They could even enact long-term reforms, as the John Locke Foundation has recommended for decades.

But they should maintain no illusions that adopting that course will keep them out of court. They’ve been warned otherwise.

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.