North Carolina Supreme Court Reverses Precedent to Enable Partisan Gerrymandering

Statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Apr 28, 2023

Washington (April 28, 2023)—This morning, in a 5-2 decision along partisan lines, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that it will not consider partisan gerrymandering claims under the state Constitution. This ruling overturns an earlier ruling from the same court, Moore v Harper, where the court struck down North Carolina’s congressional districting (and other partisan gerrymanders) as a violation of the state Constitution’s protection of the “fundamental right to vote on equal terms.” This new ruling could undermine democracy in North Carolina and around the country, according to the Union of Concerns Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“This decision could have an enormous impact on future elections across the country. Courts have an obligation to protect the public from legislators manipulating the electoral process to entrench themselves in power. The North Carolina General Assembly is now likely to adopt the most partisan congressional gerrymander that it can contrive. The decision rejects scientific standards used to demonstrate unconstitutional violations of political equality, standards that should be used ensure free and fair elections for all voters, in all elections. Science can and should support democracy by giving us the tools to identify inequities, evaluate districting plans, and ensure that elections reflect the will of the voters. But the majority in this case discarded these scientific tools in favor of the raw exercise of legislators’ power.

“As Justice Anita Earls noted in her dissenting opinion, this is a naked display of partisan power, a decision that ‘tells North Carolinians that the state constitution and the courts cannot protect their basic human right to self-governance and self-determination.’ It could enable the state legislature to severely restrict the ability of their constituents to participate in free and fair elections.

“By overruling Moore, the state Supreme Court likely negates the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the ‘independent state legislature’ theory, which could in turn limit the ability of any state court to check state legislative authority over federal elections. With no meaningful guardrails to that authority, state legislatures could freely gerrymander, disenfranchise voters, or overturn elections while insulating themselves from accountability. Such an outcome, coming right ahead of the 2024 presidential election, could put our democracy at great risk.”