Despite controlling the N.C. General Assembly and the redistricting process under the state Constitution, and winning the statewide vote in 2020, Republicans are set to lose ground in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.

Under a new congressional redistricting map imposed by a panel of three Superior Court judges, guided by three special masters, Republicans could do no better than the current eight U.S. House seats they currently hold in the 13-seat delegation. Democrats would be guaranteed to do no worse than six seats, under the new 14-district map, up from their current five.

The next step in the saga will come quickly from the N.C. Supreme Court. Republicans are seriously considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over the second rejection of their proposed congressional map in the last few weeks. This would come once the N.C. Supreme Court adopts the new congressional map, which they are certain to do.

But first the N.C. House is considering appealing the Special Master-imposed congressional map, to the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court, preserving the right for the lower chamber to appeal to the U.S Supreme Court.

The State Senate might have a different view. The N.C. House map is likely to win State Supreme Court approval due to the overwhelming bi-partisan vote on their compromise map. The lower chamber has little to lose over an appeal on the Congressional maps.
The NC Senate is more interested in preserving their chambers legislative map that could face a chilly reception by the Democrats on the State Supreme Court. It is unclear if the NC State senate could later rejoin the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judges ruled that they would accept the newly redrawn versions of maps for the N.C. House and N.C. Senate but not the new congressional map. The judges allowed three “special masters” to create a new congressional map that greatly improves prospects for Democrats.

The court named former State Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, former UNC System President Thomas Ross, and former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr as special masters.

Edmunds, a Republican, began his legal career as an assistant district attorney in Guilford County and later as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina before being appointed U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina in 1986. He later was elected to both the N.C. Court of Appeals and, in 2000, the Supreme Court. Edmunds lost his re-election battle in 2016.

Ross, a Democrat, was born and raised in Greensboro, was a Superior Court judge for 17 years, served as president of Davidson College, and then from 2011-2016 led the University of North Carolina System as president.

Orr was appointed as a judge to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 1986 and then elected twice to that court. In 1994 he was elected to the Supreme Court and retired in 2004. He headed the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law before returning to private practice. Orr is a former Republican who became disgusted with the GOP under then-President Donald Trump. He is now an unaffiliated voter located in Madison Cawthorn’s western N.C. district.  Orr is spearheading an effort to disqualify Cawthorn for running for re-election due to his alleged behavior outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The court said it was “satisfied that these three former jurists of our appellate and trial courts have the requisite qualifications and experience to serve as Special Masters in this matter, have no apparent conflicts of interest, and have the time available to complete the work required by their appointment as Special Masters in this matter.”

Among the highlights of the special masters’ plan:

U.S.  Representative Kathy Manning was gifted a safe Democrat seat based in Guilford County. The version of the map passed by the legislature had Manning in a more competitive swing district.

Democrats will now be gifted two safe Democrat congressional seats based in Mecklenburg County. One of those seats will continue to be represented by incumbent Alma Adams. Another will be an open seat guaranteed for Democrats.

The changes in Mecklenburg would end the planned congressional bid of N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, who was set to run in a new swing seat with Cleveland, Gaston, and much of Mecklenburg County. Moore’s home county of Cleveland is now in incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry’s district. McHenry is a key Moore ally.

Cawthorn is planning on returning to North Carolina’s far western 11th District.

Multiple 11th District Republican voters have been polled by Cawthorn’s campaign in the last 24 hours. Cawthorn’s return to the 11th has been in the works for some time, ever since a planned new congressional district with parts of Mecklenburg, Gaston, and Cleveland counties was revised and no longer included many of his current voters.

Cawthorn will find returning to the 11th no walk in the park. He has angered many of his former supporters with his previous announcement to move to another district.

Current state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who currently represents about 50% of the primary voters, is well-funded and has the personal wealth to invest in his campaign.

Sources inside the Edwards campaign say they are well-prepared for Cawthorn to enter the race. Edwards is already traveling the district pledging to “never abandon the mountains,” an attack squarely aimed at Cawthorn.

Cawthorn will also face a strong grass-roots campaign from former NC-11 GOP District Chair Michele Woodhouse. Woodhouse has been an avid Cawthorn supporter, and when Cawthorn announced his district change, he urged people to support Woodhouse. Sources indicate Woodhouse will stay in the race. The Woodhouse campaign sent a message to Carolina Journal after the lower court’s decision that “Michele Woodhouse, the only America First candidate in far western North Carolina’s newly created Congressional District, remains undeterred.”

Sources close to the Edwards campaign tell Carolina Journal that Edwards will not only highlight Cawthorn’s previous decision to leave the district, but the fact that his attendance record in Congress is questionable. National publications have highlighted Cawthorn’s many missed votes in committees and on the U.S. House floor. Several campaigns tell Carolina Journal that Cawthorn’s attendance record in the U.S. House will be a major focus in the primary campaign.

Republican Congressmen Richard Hudson and Dan Bishop will also navigate some choppy waters. Hudson has been drawn into a difficult situation. His home county Cabarrus is split in the new map between a solid Democrat Mecklenburg-based district and the district of Dan Bishop. The two GOP congressmen could face each other in a primary, but it is more likely one will choose to run in a new swing Sandhills District that includes Moore County.

Democrats will be guaranteed: two seats anchored in Mecklenburg County, Manning’s Guilford Seat, Rep. Deborah Ross’ Wake County seat, A Durham- and Orange-based seat, and an eastern N.C. seat currently held by retiring Democrat G.K. Butterfield.

Republicans Virginia Foxx, David Rouzer, Greg Murphy, McHenry, Cawthorn, and either Bishop or Hudson should be safe in the general election should they win any possible primary contests.

A Wake-Johnston district and the new Sandhills district will be toss-ups.