State Supreme Court will tackle voter ID, redistricting cases during trip to Edenton

The Historic Chowan County Courthouse in Edenton. (Image from John Locke Foundation "State of Our Constitution" series)

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  • The N.C. Supreme Court will conduct Oct. 3-4 sessions at the historic Chowan County Courthouse in Edenton. Among the five cases are two with significance for N.C. elections.
  • Holmes v. Moore challenges the state's 2018 voter identification law. Harper v. Hall challenges election maps for N.C. congressional and legislative contests.

State Supreme Court justices are traveling to an 18th-century courthouse next week to tackle two election-related cases with major significance in the 21st century. The court announced Tuesday that its Oct. 3-4 sessions will take place at the historic Chowan County Courthouse in Edenton.

The courthouse dates back to 1767, nearly a decade before the Declaration of Independence transformed North Carolina from a British colony into one of the United States of America.

Among the five cases on the calendar for the two-day tour of Edenton are Holmes v. Moore, which challenges North Carolina’s 2018 voter identification law, and Harper v. Hall, which deals with disputed congressional and legislative election maps.

In a separate order Tuesday, the court denied redistricting plaintiffs’ request to extend oral arguments by 20 minutes. The court will instead stick with its standard one-hour time limit for presentations by opposing attorneys.

“We are delighted that Edenton is hosting the Supreme Court once again,” said Chief Justice Newby in a news release. “Holding this special session of court outside of Raleigh makes it easier for North Carolinians across the state to better understand the rule of law and the Judicial Branch’s Constitutional obligation to ensure that justice is delivered without favor, denial, or delay.”

Despite the alternate location, viewers across the state will be able to watch livestream video of the proceedings. The court offered free tickets to in-person proceedings on a first-come, first-served basis.

Neither of the high-profile cases on the court’s calendar next week will affect this fall’s elections. Both could affect the 2024 election cycle.

Holmes v. Moore is scheduled for a 1 p.m. argument on Monday. The case addresses the 2018 voter ID law state lawmakers approved to implement a state constitutional amendment. In a separate ruling in August, a split 4-3 court ruled in N.C. NAACP v. Moore that a trial judge might be able to nullify the amendment. That ruling would not have affected the voter ID law itself.

A trial court panel split 2-1 in September 2021 in voting to throw out the voter ID law. In a case tied to the left-of-center Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the trial court’s majority ruled that the ID law was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. With no action from the Supreme Court, the trial court order already blocked voter ID statewide.

Justices will take up Harper v. Hall at 11 a.m. Tuesday. That’s the redistricting challenge dealing with election maps for state House and Senate races, along with contests for North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

An earlier state Supreme Court ruling confirmed new districts for the 2022 election cycle. But critics continue to challenge the Republican-led General Assembly’s remedial maps for state House and Senate races. Legislators took issue with a court-drawn map for congressional elections.

The court split 4-3 along party lines when deciding to hear both election-related cases in October. Democrats supported speeding up the cases’ timetables to permit October oral arguments. Republican justices dissented.

Two state Supreme Court seats are up for election in November. Democrats hold both seats now. If Republicans win just one of the two elections, the court’s partisan balance will shift toward the GOP’s favor.

Critics contend that plaintiffs in these election cases have been trying to secure victories from the current state Supreme Court before voters head to the polls.