RUSHER: Tipped scales in North Carolina redistricting fight

N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls via NC Judicial Branch

State legislatures across the country are entrenched in their respective redistricting processes, each with their own unique set of laws and legal guidelines. In North Carolina however, an activist court is taking unprecedented action to reward a big money campaign donor by handing them full redistricting powers.  

Simply put, former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) bankrolled the judicial candidate who is helping deliver mapmaking authority. The deciding vote on the court is also a six-figure campaign cash beneficiary of the NDRC. 

Unfortunately, this story of political cronyism is of little interest to most media outlets in the state.  

In North Carolina, 14 U.S. Congressional districts and 180 state legislative districts will soon be adopted. Due to weaponization of the judiciary over the last several years, a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court has become the most politically powerful position in the Tar Heel State.  

The N.C. Supreme Court this month issued a highly partisan court order, the likes of which has never been seen in North Carolina, or perhaps the United States. In a 4-3 party line ruling, the Democratic judicial majority handed redistricting power directly to Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation — NRF which works directly in concert with the NDRC. While this may sound like an exaggeration, it is clearly written in Part 9 of the high court majority’s ruling.  

The high court concocted a new process to adopt the maps that will be used for the 2022 elections. The N.C. Supreme Court majority ruling outlines their process, where in the 11th hour, new maps drawn by the plaintiff’s attorneys — NDRC, and NC League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV) — may be considered for adoption in place of the legislature’s submitted maps.  

No other state court in the nation has given this type of power to private, partisan law firms. Section 9 of the court’s order solicits new maps from the plaintiffs and requires the court to “select a plan that comports with Constitutional requirements”. The deadline for both map submissions to the lower court, and subsequent appeals to be received by the state Supreme Court, is this week. 

Though the list of procedural and judicial abnormalities preceding the high court’s ruling is long, it began in 2018 when then candidate Anita Earls received the endorsement and financial support of Holder’s NDRC to the tune of $200,000. Earls went on to narrowly win the seat, and just three years later is presiding as the deciding vote over a fast-moving redistricting lawsuit — funded by her largest financial backer.  

In December 2021, as the NRF’s Harper v. Hall lawsuit ascended the judicial ladder and became enjoined with the NCLCV’s suit, plaintiffs requested N.C. Supreme Court intervention over lower courts. Not only did the high court’s Democratic majority intervene, they also ruled that the state appellate courts, which are majority Republican judges, should be cut entirely out of the appeals process — giving sole unappealable power to the N.C. Supreme Court. The high court went on to stop the election filing process that lower court rulings had allowed for the 2022 elections to begin.   

During this time, three different N.C. Supreme Court Justices were faced with recusal requests, including Justice Earls in consideration of the well-known political and financial connections to the plaintiffs. Predictably, no justices recused. Earls, however, not only refused recusal, but went on to empower her largest financial supporter with an unprecedented pathway to enact privately drawn, highly partisan district maps — with no public input.   

North Carolina’s Constitution designates the legislative branch as the rightful arbiter over questions of electoral mapmaking. The N.C. Supreme Court majority, in their own words, has decided that electoral mapmaking may take place inside the bowels of any private law firm as well.   

And just when we thought the process couldn’t get much worse, recent news accounts brought a scandalous report of how two advisors to the court-appointed Special Masters were caught in ex-parte communications with the plaintiffs about how to draw the maps. Court action to remove these advisors may happen at any minute, leaving a process surrounded in question marks.  

When the N.C. Supreme Court first intervened in this redistricting case this past December, the court’s Democratic majority openly signaled how it is susceptible to politically charged public opinion. Leading off its court order, the majority wrote that, “In light of the great public interest in the subject matter of these cases…” as it adopted the position of the plaintiff’s attorneys to throw North Carolina’s electoral process into chaos.  

It seems like the high court majority is no longer considering the public’s interest — specifically to have transparency and Constitutionality weigh on the judicial scales. In 2022, the stakes have never been higher. 

Mike Rusher is the Vice President of The Results Company in Raleigh.