Aug 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

N.C. Supreme Court rules against "racially gerrymandered" legislature

The North Carolina state capitol building in downtown Raleigh. Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state legislature may not have the authority to pass amendments to the state constitution because lawmakers were elected based on district maps that were "unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered."

Why it matters: The NAACP brought the lawsuit after the General Assembly narrowly enacted legislation to present six constitutional amendments to voters in 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court has "conclusively determined" that a substantial number of those legislators were elected from gerrymandered districts.

  • The lawsuit focused on two amendments that were approved in referendums: One that required photo ID to vote and another that capped state income taxes at 7%.

Details: The court ruled 4-3 that the state constitution "impose[s] limits on these legislators’ authority to initiate the process of amending the constitution under these circumstances," North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls wrote in the majority opinion, which noted that the "votes of legislators from unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts could have been decisive."

  • "[T]he potentially transformative consequences of amendments that could change basic tenets of our constitutional system of government warrant heightened scrutiny of amendments enacted through a process that required the participation of legislators whose claim to represent the people’s will has been disputed," Earls wrote.
  • The court concluded that constitutional amendments passed by "a legislature composed of a substantial number of legislators elected from unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered legislative districts, after the unlawfulness of those districts has been conclusively established, are not automatically shielded."
  • Earls did say, however, that the lower court ruling that voided the amendments was too broad and sent the case back to the Superior Court for review.

The other side: "One could argue that this Court has circumvented the will of the people and subverted our republican form of government," Justice Phil Berger wrote in the dissenting opinion.

  • "The legislature alone is textually granted the power to determine the qualifications of its members."

The big picture: The state's Supreme Court, which is comprised of four Democrats and three Republicans, ruled earlier this year that North Carolina's GOP-led redistricting maps are unconstitutional and "unlawful partisan gerrymanders."

  • The plan would have given Republicans as many as 11 seats compared to just three for Democrats.
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