GOP-Led NC Supreme Court Will “Rehear” Voting Rights Cases in March
By Cash Michaels
In the recent words of one North Carolina civil rights attorney, “The carnage at the NC Supreme Court has begun!!!”
The 5-2 Republican majority state Supreme Court began hearing arguments last week, and according to observers, there are strong indications that the High Court is prepared to erase several of the important decisions made by the Democrat 4-3 majority court last term.
In his recent analysis of the new Republican court majority, Irving Joyner, professor of law at North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham said, “We can expect this newly minted North Carolina Supreme Court to reverse the recent voting rights and voter protection opinions which were recently decided by that Court. These political motivated reversals will be unprecedented in North Carolina law and cement the present Supreme Court, which will be in power for the next eight years, as a tool of right-wing conservative forces.”
On Friday, against established precedent, the new GOP majority court voted to rehear two important voting rights cases already decided just a few months prior because Republican legislative leaders petitioned the court to do so.
The first to be reheard will be Holmes v. Moore, where the Democrat-led High Court on Dec. 16th decided to strike down the 2018 voter I.D. law passed by the Republican-led NC General Assembly because it was ruled racially discriminatory and thus, unconstitutional.
Observers say after rehearing arguments next month, expect the new state Supreme Court to rule that the 2018 voter ID is not racially discriminatory primarily because Republican legislative leaders say it isn’t.
Expect the same predicted outcome by the High Court after rehearing Harper v. Hall in March, where on Dec. 16th, the Democrat-led court agreed with plaintiffs that the second version of a 2020 congressional redistricting map, in addition to the state Senate voting map, “…violates the state’s constitutional guarantees of free, fair and honest elections, equal protection under the law , freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.”
The two African American associate justices left on the NC Supreme Court now, Anita Earls and Michael Morgan, made clear in their written descents that rehearing the cases was highly improper, and smacked of politics.
“The allowance of this extraordinary remedy to petitioners in this case, under the existent circumstances, may serve to foment concerns that North Carolina’s highest state court is engaged in the determination of challenging and legitimate legal disputes with a perceived desire to reach outcomes which are inconsistent with this Court’s well-established principles of adherence to legal precedent, stare decisis, and the rule of law,” wrote Justice Morgan.
Justice Earls was also not pleased with the prospect of rehearing cases.
“The majority’s order fails to acknowledge the radical break with 205 years of history that the decision to rehear this case represents,” Earls wrote. “It has long been the practice of this Court to respect precedent and the principle that once the Court has ruled, that ruling will not be disturbed merely because of a change in the Court’s composition.”
“Indeed, data from the Supreme Court’s electronic filing system indicate that, since January 1993, a total of 214 petitions for rehearing have been filed, but rehearing has been allowed in only two cases,” she added. “It has been the understood practice of this Court that rehearing is not allowed solely because a Justice may have had a change of heart after the opinion in the case has been issued or because an opinion was controversial.”
However, Republican justices on the court saw no problem with the GOP petitions for rehearing the cases. All parties are now required to file briefs in preparation for March 14th rehearings.
Meanwhile, the Republican-led High Court heard arguments in two other cases of particular interest to African Americans.
On Feb. 2, justices heard arguments in Community Success Initiative v. Moore, where Republican justices insisted that ex-felons can only earn back their voting rights as prescribed by an old 1970s law, a law that critics maintain was based on the intent to disenfranchise African Americans from their voting rights and should be deemed unconstitutional.
A ruling is expected on that case shortly.
And yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of prosecutors using race as a tool to eliminate Black prospective jurors from capital cases where Blacks are the defendants, to convict with an all-white jury.
Prof. Joyner says the new High Court is about to turn the clock back on hard fought for gains by African Americans.
“The newly constructed Supreme Court is in place today because African Americans, racial minorities and many other progressive voters failed to fully participate in the 2022 elections,” Joyner says. “When you don’t vote, you get the government that other people wish to be in control. As a result, efforts to protect civil and political rights will be more difficult than it has been since 1900 when “Jim Crow” forces seized control of all branches of the North Carolina government.”