Featured photo: Jake Quinn, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Elections, spoke at a press conference addressing the Supreme Court’s hearing of Moore v. Harper. The press conference was presented by Common Cause and was held at the Buncombe County Courthouse on Dec. 7. Photo by Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press
This story was originally published by Carolina Public Press on Dec. 8. Story by Shelby Harris.
On Dec. 7, North Carolinians gathered at Asheville City Hall to oppose the case that originated in the state and could impact future elections. Nearly 500 miles way, the U.S. Supreme Court’s heard the Moore v. Harper case.
Moore v. Harper challenges the N.C. Supreme Court’s power to override congressional maps drawn by the state legislature. If the country’s highest court rules in favor of Republicans, led by N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore, it would mean the state legislature has complete control in drawing congressional districts.
Proponents of the case argue that the language in the U.S. Constitution already gives elections and mapping power to state legislatures.
Opponents say giving the state legislature sole power over congressional mapping could lead to unequal representation, the reversal of current elections processes and strict voting laws.
“I see (Moore v. Harper) as a last ditch effort,” Buncombe County Board of Elections Chair Jake Quinn said during the press conference hosted this week by Common Cause North Carolina, a national nonpartisan watchdog network.
Key speakers at the press conference included Suzanne Fisher, president of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe, Common Cause North Carolina’s executive director, Bob Phillips, and state advisory board member Bill Sederburg.
What is Moore v. Harper?
In the most recent decennial census, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that North Carolina’s population grew by 9.5% from 2010-20. The population increase meant the state gained a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for a total of 14 seats representing 14 congressional districts throughout the state.
State legislatures draw congressional district maps, per the U.S. Constitution, so when North Carolina’s population increased warranted an additional district, the N.C. General Assembly created a new congressional map in 2021.
The proposed map secured a Republican supermajority throughout North Carolina leadership in 10 of the 14 congressional districts. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the map was a “radical statistical outlier more favorable to Republicans than 99.9999% of all possible maps.”
Shortly after the state legislature proposed its map, the state Supreme Court utilized this power in February in the Harper v. Hall ruling, which stated that the map used gerrymandering, or the manipulation of district lines in favor of one party.
The state Supreme Court ruled the proposed plans were “egregious and intentional partisan gerrymanders, designed to enhance Republican performance, and thereby give a greater voice to those voters than to any others.”
Through the ruling, the court amended the North Carolina Constitution to explicitly give the N.C. Supreme Court power to intervene in redistricting if the legislature proposes gerrymandered maps.
In February, the N.C. Supreme Court approved a new map drawn by court-appointed former judges that gave Republicans control of seven districts, Democrats in six and one district a tossup in February. Districts’ political affiliation are determined by how residents in that district have historically voted.
Republicans led by Moore are currently challenging the ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s decision will determine if state supreme courts have the right to override congressional districts drawn by the state legislature.
In North Carolina, it would give the Republican-dominated state legislature the ability to draw congressional maps, like the one from earlier this year, with no government oversight.
Many fear leaving redistricting solely to the state legislature could create discrimination against certain demographic groups, such as people of color who tend to register as Democrats in North Carolina, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections.
“I am a person of color but I’m also an everyday person,” Buncombe County resident Jane Yokoyama said during the Wednesday press conference.
“Any way you look at it, whether you’re a person of color or not, the way this is set up is wrong. Voters should choose their legislators, not legislators choose their voters. Simple as that.”
What’s happening now?
Arguments in Harper v. Moore began Dec. 7. You can listen to the arguments here.
U.S. Supreme Court justices asked questions about the independent legislature theory, which Republicans are using to defend their argument.
The theory originated in 2000 with the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore and was popularized by former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. By reinterpreting two constitutional clauses, the theory sets out that the U.S. Constitution does not permit state supreme courts to challenge legislature-drawn congressional maps or any other laws related to elections.
The theory disputes the current interpretation the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, which reads “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations,” and the Presidential Electors Clause, which reads, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.”
As the Constitution is currently interpreted, “legislature” refers to the entire state legislative process, including the General Assembly, governor and Supreme Court.
Republicans are arguing, through the theory, that the word “legislature” — which has, up to this point, been interpreted as including state supreme courts — refers solely to the state legislature.
“This court is barreling into the political wilderness, where the legislative authority to redistrict will be transferred from the legislature to the courts,” Phillip Strach, the attorney representing Republicans, said in October before the N.C. Supreme Court.
Similar arguments are being posed in the federal Supreme Court’s second day of arguments, but their effectiveness proved questionable after even the court’s conservative justices questioned the state’s interpretation of the independent legislature theory.
It is unknown when the Supreme Court’s opinion will be announced.
Why is the case important?
Attorneys arguing against Moore v. Harper contend that the N.C. state legislature manipulated district lines to ensure Republican leadership in the drawing of the congressional map last year.
Gov. Roy Cooper presented a similar argument in a New York Times opinion article on Dec. 7.
“Our democracy is a fragile ecosystem that requires checks and balances to survive,” Cooper wrote. “Giving state legislatures unfettered control over federal elections is not only a bad idea but also a blatant misreading of the Constitution.”
Members of Common Cause North Carolina, to which Rebecca Harper, the case’s namesake, belongs, made similar statements Wednesday in Asheville.
“We saw in the most recent election that the outcome was considerably different than we’ve experienced in recent years,” Quinn said. “The legislators were frustrated and said, ‘We want to get it our way, and so, now we have this last-ditch effort.”’
The group also spoke of the potential ramifications the case could have on underrepresented communities, such as people of color, who typically vote Democratic and, therefore, would have had less federal representation if the Republican-drawn congressional map was enacted.
“If you look at our state legislature, I don’t think that it’s representative of people of color,” Yokoyama said. “There’s a cracking and packing that has happened before, so I think that if the legislature (wins) then you are going to see more people of color being disenfranchised.”
If the court sides with Moore, legislatures will have greater freedom to gerrymander and predict which party controls the House. It can also change how elections are conducted in the United States.
For more information on Harper v. Moore:
For more information on the independent state legislature theory:
To catch up on yesterday’s Supreme Court proceedings, visit:
Find your U.S. Representative, here. To hear and read about the case visit this website.
To read the case click here.
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