By Jim Ellis
Feb. 8, 2022 — In what has almost been a decade-long game of gerrymander ping pong, the state Supreme Court on Friday rejected the new North Carolina congressional and state legislative maps, thus repeating their actions from the two previous times the panel’s majority disqualified a Republican legislature’s map.
The vote was 4-3, with all four Democrats voting in favor of declaring the map a partisan gerrymander, consistent with their past action, while the three Republicans voted to uphold the plans.
We are again looking at a relatively quick re-draw situation because the twice-postponed North Carolina primary is now scheduled for June 7. If an agreement cannot be reached, it is possible the candidate filing deadline and statewide primary are again postponed.
The high court’s move was expected, but this is a serious setback to Republicans from a national perspective since North Carolina appears to be the only state where the party can gain multiple seats through redistricting.
It is likely that the inter-party pairing of Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) and Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) will be re-drawn when a new congressional version is passed. The Greensboro area has been the major focal point of this and the previous maps, with the partisan Republican legislature and partisan Democratic court continuing to battle over a map that will eventually become the state’s 2022 political playing field.
As drawn, the legislature’s map — under North Carolina law and procedure, the governor, in this case Democrat Roy Cooper, has no veto power over redistricting — would have returned either 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats or possibly has high as 11 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Under the current draw, the Republican advantage is 8-5.
North Carolina gained one seat under national reapportionment, and the last iteration of the state Supreme Court map, ordered before the 2020 election, resulted in the Republicans losing two seats, one in Raleigh and the other in the Greensboro area.
The legislature’s rejected map creates more than the one new open seat that the state gained in reapportionment. With the pairing of Reps. Foxx and Manning, a new open seat, District 7, was drawn in the Greensboro area and another, labeled District 4 in the Fayetteville/Johnston County region, was also constructed. The new 7th would have been safely Republican, while the new 4th held a lean Republican rating.
Another situation arose in the western part of the state, and it is unclear at this point if the legislature will change that region’s draw. The new 14th District was placed in the state’s far western sector, and was intended for freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville). Therefore, the state’s new seat became the 13th, a western Carolina district that was plotted closer to Charlotte.
The new 13th was a stronger Republican seat than the new 14th, and Rep. Cawthorn decided to run in the former district, despite having only an 11.1 percent constituent carryover factor from his current district. Being forced into another re-draw, we will see how the legislature re-configures western North Carolina this time.
Another of the focal points from the court’s decision was the district of retiring Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson). The 1st District, labeled #2 on the legislature’s map, was becoming more competitive despite being a majority minority district. Rep. Butterfield complained about the re-draw, saying the map put an African American candidate at a disadvantage, which proved one of the reasons that he decided to retire. Expect this district to become stronger for a minority candidate, thus likely taking it from lean Democratic seat to one that will be considered safe for the party candidate.
Whatever happens this year, there is a good chance we will see another re-draw before the 2024 election since Republicans have a strong chance of securing a majority on the high court in the coming elections. Two of the Democratic justices are on the ballot, and one is retiring, while no Republican jurist has to risk his seat.