Why the NC Supreme Court decision to rehear 2 recent voting rights cases is 'an exercise of raw partisanship'
Although it isn’t unheard of, state supreme courts seldom rehear or reconsider decisions that weren’t made in the distant past. They often embrace stare decisis, a legal doctrine that essentially means respect for precedent or, in Latin, “let the decision rest.”
But the North Carolina Supreme Court, according to veteran New York Times journalist Michael Wines, has decided to rehear two voting rights decisions made in 2022. And this decision, Wines reports in an article published on February 5, reflects the extreme politicization of the judiciary in the United States.
“On Friday, (February 3),” Wines explains, “the (North Carolina Supreme) Court moved to rehear two major voting rights cases that it had previously decided, one striking down a gerrymandered map of State Senate districts and another nullifying new voter identification requirements. Such rehearings by the Court are exceedingly rare. In fact, North Carolina’s Supreme Court ordered as many rehearings on Friday as it has in the past three decades. What also made the rehearings exceptional was that the cases had been decided less than two months ago — by a court that, at the time, contained four Democratic and three Republican justices.”
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Wines adds that North Carolina’s state supreme court, thanks to the 2022 midterms, now has a larger Republican majority.
Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, told the New York Times, “Quite literally, the only thing that changed is the Court’s composition. The whole thing simply smells of partisanship.”
According to Douglas, “We can talk about the merits of electing judges in general or electing judges on a partisan basis. There’s something to say for judges bringing their own backgrounds and ideologies into decision making. But they shouldn’t simply be politicians in robes, because it makes it hard to feel like there’s a meaningful check on the legislature.”
The North Carolina Supreme Court justices who opposed rehearing the cases, Anita Earls and Michael R. Morgan, denounced the decision as “an exercise of raw partisanship.”
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The justices wrote, “It took this court just one month to send a smoke signal to the public that our decisions are fleeting and our precedent is only as enduring as the terms of the justices who sit on the bench.”
North Carolina has become a major battleground in the voting rights debate, and it is where the U.S. Supreme Court case Moore v. Harper originated.
In that case, North Carolina Republicans challenged their state supreme court’s anti-gerrymandering decisions and ask the High Court to consider a far-right legal doctrine known as the independent state legislature theory (ISL). According to the most extreme version of the ISL, only state legislatures have the right to govern a state’s voting laws — not judges or state supreme courts, not governors.
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Read the New York Times’ full report at this link (subscription required).
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