Slate: An Even More Insidious Kind of Gerrymandering
The GOP-led General Assembly continues their power grab. The illegitimate legislature already had their legislative districts ruled unconstitutional by a Supreme Court for racially gerrymandering. Then they passed very restrictive voter ID laws. And now what are they doing? The House passed bills in a special session that will take away a voter election for judges and allow the legislature to redraw judicial districts. This means more gerrymandering and more power grabbing by the GOP.
The state GOP has not modified its strategy in response to these rulings. Instead, it’s trying to modify the courts. North Carolina’s Republican-dominated General Assembly is currently poised to pass a gerrymandering bill that would carve up state judicial districts to create more seats for GOP judges and fewer seats for Democratic ones. The measure would not merely politicize the courts. It would transform them into another political branch designed to do the bidding of legislative Republicans. If the assembly’s gambit succeeds, North Carolina’s judiciary may permanently lose its independence.
Republicans began tampering with the judiciary shortly after the 2016 election, in which Cooper prevailed in the governor’s race and Democrat Mike Morgan won a seat on the state Supreme Court, a victory that gave progressive justices a 4–3 majority. Many Republicans were convinced Morgan triumphed only because the judicial race was officially nonpartisan. They responded by making state Supreme Court elections partisan and later added a requirement that lower court candidates list their political affiliations. GOP legislators also allowed the full state Court of Appeals—on which Republicans held a majority—to hear cases before they reached the state Supreme Court. Several Republican judges on the Court of Appeals were set to retire during Cooper’s tenure due to age limits, so the assembly shrank the court to prevent Cooper from replacing them.
Against this backdrop, state courts heard challenges to a series of bills passed by Republicans just before Cooper took office that diminished the power of the governor. The most dramatic measure restructured the state election board, as well as all 100 county election boards, to preclude Democrats from reforming state elections. Under the old system, the state election board consisted of five members: three from the governor’s party and two from the minority party. Each county board was made of three members: two from the governor’s party and one from the minority party. These boards set voting procedures, oversaw voter registration, set poll locations, and maintained voter rolls. Republicans used them to slash early voting and purge voters, especially minorities, from the rolls. Once they took control of the boards, Democrats planned to reverse this suppression.