At a Wednesday press conference where North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham made her previously reported switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP official, Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore made some news of his own when he said his party expects to redistrict North Carolina's maps for Congress, the state Senate, and—most notably—the state House. While observers had long expected Republicans to revisit the first two maps, Moore's comments reveal that the GOP is in fact planning a much broader redraw than is allowed under state law.
In December, the state Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering violated the state constitution and struck down the congressional and state Senate maps that Republicans enacted last year, ordering they be redrawn for 2024. However, in that same decision, the court rejected the plaintiffs' challenge of the GOP's state House map. Because North Carolina's constitution prohibits mid-decade redistricting of legislative districts barring a court order, the justices determined that the state House map was "established" and therefore binding for the rest of the decade.
That decision, however, was issued by the high court's previous Democratic majority; a month earlier, Republicans had flipped control of the court but did not actually assume power until January. Once they did, though, the new GOP majority accepted GOP lawmakers' request to rehear the case, an unprecedented move that led dissenting Democratic justices to brand it a "display of raw partisanship." The court held oral arguments last month and could issue a new decision at any time.
Legal experts widely expect the GOP majority to reverse December's ruling and legalize gerrymandering again, but that alone would not empower the GOP to redraw the state House map since December's ruling rejected claims that it constituted an illegal gerrymander. Any new decision permitting Republicans to alter the state House map would amount to an even more egregiously partisan action by the court's new majority.
Republican lawmakers contend that they can nevertheless redraw the current state House map, arguing that it was not legally "established" because the courts preliminarily blocked the original legislative maps that Republicans drew in 2021 on the basis of illegal partisan gerrymandering while the case proceeded on the merits. But following that ruling, Republicans enacted a second set of maps that were not as extreme as their first pair. These replacement maps were used in last year's elections and remain in place today.
Republicans claim that judicial intervention to temporarily bar the first House map means that the second map was not "established" because legislators only drew that second map after being compelled to act by the courts. But Republicans in fact voluntarily chose to pass a revised map. They could instead have continued fighting to preserve their initial map and let the courts temporarily implement one for just the 2022 elections while the case remained pending. (Under state law, a court-imposed remedial map may be used "in the next general election only.")
Legal journalist Billy Corriher called the GOP's argument "incredibly weak," but the Supreme Court's Republican majority may nonetheless play along. If it does, the justices could allow GOP lawmakers to lock in the three-fifths supermajority that they regained from Cotham's party switch for years to come—and simultaneously return her favor by making her current safely blue district much redder in the process.
Progressives scored a monumental victory in Wisconsin Tuesday night when Janet Protasiewicz flipped a pivotal seat on the state Supreme Court, and we've got plenty to say about it on this week's episode of The Downballot. Not only are the electoral implications deeply worrisome for Republicans, the court's new liberal majority has the chance to revive democracy in the Badger State by restoring abortion rights and striking down gerrymandered GOP maps. It truly is a new day—and one we've long awaited—in Wisconsin.
We're also delving into the fascinating politics of Alaska with our guest this week, former state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Jonathan recounts his unlikely journey to the state House after winning a huge upset while still in college before explaining how Democrats, independents, and even a few Republicans forged a remarkable cross-partisan governing coalition. We also get an on-the-ground view of what Mary Peltola's stunning special election victory last year looked like to Alaska Democrats.