North Carolina legislature enacts new congressional, legislative districts

On Oct. 25, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted new congressional and legislative district boundaries. The final votes for each plan were strictly along party lines, with all votes in favor by Republicans and all votes against by Democrats. The state redrew its district boundaries after North Carolina’s Supreme Court in April overturned a prior decision that had held that the state’s enacted congressional and legislative maps were unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering. These new maps will take effect for the 2024 elections.

Describing the new congressional districts, The New York Times’ Maggie Astor wrote, “The map creates 10 solidly Republican districts, three solidly Democratic districts and one competitive district. Currently, under the lines drawn by a court for the 2022 election, each party holds seven seats. The Democratic incumbents who have been essentially drawn off the map are Representatives Jeff Jackson in the Charlotte area, Kathy Manning in the Greensboro area and Wiley Nickel in the Raleigh area. A seat held by a fourth Democrat, Representative Don Davis, is expected to be competitive.”

Regarding the state’s new legislative districts, WUNC’s Rusty Jacobs wrote that Catawba College Prof. Michael “Bitzer said Republicans have drawn maps that have a strong chance of preserving their veto-proof super majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Bitzer noted that constitutional provisions, like requiring legislators to keep counties whole when drawing state legislative districts, make it more difficult for lawmakers to gerrymander these maps more aggressively.”

On April 28, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned their Feb. 4, 2022, decision that the state’s enacted congressional and legislative maps were unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering and vacated both the maps the legislature enacted in 2021 and the remedial maps used for the 2022 elections. In its ruling, the court said, “we hold that partisan gerrymandering claims present a political question that is nonjusticiable under the North Carolina Constitution. Accordingly, the decision of this Court in Harper I is overruled. We affirm the three judge panel’s 11 January 2022 Judgment concluding, inter alia, that partisan gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable, political questions and dismissing all of plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice.” The Court’s order also said that the legislature’s original 2021 maps were developed based on incorrect criteria and ruled that the General Assembly should develop new congressional and legislative boundaries to be used starting with the 2024 elections.

In November 2022, Richard Dietz (R) defeated Lucy N. Inman (D), and Trey Allen (R) defeated incumbent Sam Ervin IV (D), in partisan elections for two North Carolina Supreme Court judgeships. As a result of these elections, the court flipped from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican majority in 2023. Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats had a 6-1 majority on the court.

As part of its decision in Moore v. Harper, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the initial decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court which overturned the state’s 2021 congressional map. In that ruling, SCOTUS held that “State courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause.” Although the state supreme court ultimately reversed its decision, the Supreme Court upheld the state court’s authority to decide whether the district boundaries complied with state law.

Additional reading:

Moore v. Harper

Supreme Court of North Carolina