WHATLEY: The constitutional order is on the NC Supreme Court docket this week

NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley

This week, the Democrat activists behind North Carolina redistricting lawsuits have reached their intended target – the Democrat majority on the N.C. Supreme Court.  This was the Democrats’ plan all along, and the reasons why should concern all North Carolinians.

The bipartisan Superior Court panel that voted unanimously just a few weeks ago to uphold the enacted election maps as legal demonstrated judicial restraint in doing so. After Democrats fell short of making their case, the panel rejected their calls for the court to insert itself into a consequential political question. That’s because, no matter how loudly the Democrats smear Republicans’ transparent redistricting process, the N.C. Constitution says absolutely nothing about the political nature of that process.

It’s unlikely we will see such judicial restraint among the Democrat justices on the Supreme Court – the Democrats’ true target. We know this because the very activist groups behind this lawsuit also funded the 2018 campaign of then-Supreme Court candidate, now-Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by Eric Holder, funneled more than $250,000 to elect Anita Earls in 2018. Now the same group is directly funding the ongoing litigation over which Justice Earls will now preside. This blatant conflict of interest compromising the Democrat justice’s impartiality is exactly why Democrat activists had the Supreme Court in their sites all along – influence.

Justice Earls herself warned about the dangers of such influence. Arguing against unlimited PAC contributions in 2005, Earls asserted, “donors will use those contributions to buy access to and influence with those candidates aided by the committee.” 

This is more than sufficient to recuse herself from this case, but Earls rejected calls for recusal. This gives every indication that she has no respect for the judicial restraint exhibited by lower court jurists and instead intends to leverage her position to advance the goals of the Democrat special interest groups that funded her campaign. Honest observers can glean this from Earls’ extensive resume of activism. As founder and leader of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice – also funded, in part, by the special interest groups involved in this case – Earls regularly and publicly showcased her bias against Republicans on these very issues. 

Justice Earls has claimed and will pretend to be “fair and impartial” as she presides over a case brought forth by her campaign backers and activist allies. Considering her history, North Carolinians have good reason to be skeptical. Moreover, it’s entirely possible that biased Justice Earls will lead a Democrat-majority court to not only block the enacted Republican-drawn maps but also to cut out the legislature’s constitutional role in redistricting entirely by mandating the use of maps drawn in total secrecy by the very activists she used to work alongside. Let that sink in.

Also concerning is the refusal of Democrat Justice Sam Ervin to recuse himself from this case since he is the only justice up for reelection in November. Already, Justice Ervin took part in court action suspending and delaying candidate filing, thereby temporarily inhibiting potential political opponents that might challenge his incumbency and ensuring that the two Republican candidates that filed to run for that seat will have an extended primary election period. In rejecting calls for recusal, Ervin said he simply didn’t see what the problem was. However, appearances are everything, and those paying attention can plainly see that a judge presiding over a case that affects his campaign for reelection is a very bad look. Bad enough to dispel the appearance of conflict responsibly by recusing himself from the case.

If the Democrats on the Supreme Court declare the enacted maps to be ‘unconstitutional extreme partisan gerrymanders,’ they will be revealing themselves as extremely partisan justices merely doing the bidding of the Democratic Party and the activists pushing its agenda. The People of North Carolina deserve judges that respect the Constitution, not partisans that treat the bench as a tool to advance the political interests of the Democrat Party.

Voter trust in the electoral process and our institutions is already at a critical low. The judiciary is no exception. A prerequisite to restoring trust in our electoral processes and civic institutions is to have a judiciary that rises above the influence of political activists to stand only atop the text of the Constitution. It is only through such apolitical deference to the Constitution that citizens can have confidence that their future and that of their children are not at the mercy of activists on the bench and the special interests that put them there. 

What the conflicted Democrat-majority on the N.C. Supreme Court does this week will mean the difference between beginning to restore trust in constitutional governance or further compromising the constitutional order itself. North Carolina certainly deserves the former, but, unfortunately, the activists behind this suit are banking on well-placed allies to ensure the latter.

Michael Whatley is the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party