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NC Democrats celebrate U.S. Supreme court ruling, but redistricting process won't change

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein speaks in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, on Dec. 7, 2022.
Andrew Harnik
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein speaks in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, on Dec. 7, 2022.

North Carolina Democrats praised Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on redistricting, but the decision likely won’t have a major effect on the maps drawn for next year’s election.

Attorney General Josh Stein said in a video that he’s glad the high court rejected what’s known as “independent state legislature” theory. It’s an idea advanced by attorneys for the North Carolina legislature who argued that state courts can’t block legislative action on federal elections.

“They reaffirmed that in our democracy, the people have power over the politicians,” Stein said. “Our state legislators actually asked the U.S. Supreme Court to give them unfettered power over federal elections, no matter what state constitution says.”

Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore — who’s named in the title of the case, Moore v. Harper — declined to speak with reporters after Tuesday’s House session.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

Moore said in a news release that “the question of the role of state courts in congressional redistricting needed to be settled and this decision has done just that. I am proud of the work we did to pursue this case to the nation’s highest court.”

Senate leader Phil Berger says the ruling avoided a key question.

"I don’t think we got an answer to the question that we were asking, specifically whether Democrats on the state Supreme Court had gone beyond what would be considered appropriate in rejecting redistricting maps on the basis of partisan gerrymandering," Berger said.

The legislature plans to convene this fall to redraw legislative and congressional maps for the 2024 election. While the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last year’s N.C. Supreme Court decision to strike down maps it saw as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, that ruling has already been reversed by the state court’s new Republican majority.

That means GOP legislative leaders will likely try to draw maps that advantage their party more than the maps used in the 2022 election, which resulted in a congressional delegation evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

But Hilary Klein of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice — one of the group’s involved in the Supreme Court case — said Tuesday that the ruling and other recent decision from the high court should give legislators pause. She cited the Alabama case that upheld a portion of the Voting Rights Act addressing racial gerrymandering.

“I think that absolutely will require the North Carolina legislature to reframe how it’s going to do any redraw,” Klein said.

In his video statement, Stein — who’s running for governor in 2024 — acknowledged the likely outcome of this year’s redistricting process.

“We know that there’s going to be rough partisan gerrymander maps here in the state legislature next year,” he said. “That means that we have to work our tails off. And I know this: good organizing can defeat a bad gerrymander.”

The ruling was widely praised by Democrats across the country. Former President Barack Obama said in a tweet, “This ruling rejects the far-right theory that threatened to undermine our democracy, and makes clear that courts can continue defending voters' rights—in North Carolina and in every state.” Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist who twice ran for governor in Georgia, called it a “a vital reaffirmation of the role of state courts.”

Rep. Robert Reives, the Democratic leader of the state House, said in a statement that the ruling “reinforces the role of courts in protecting citizens against legislative overreach."

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.