by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
This week, Carolina Journal’s Brooke Conrad reported on the North Carolina gerrymandering court case, Common Cause v. Lewis. The trial ended on Friday, yet many constitutional experts believe this is not the end for the case. Conrad reports:
The three-judge panel handling Common Cause v. Lewis at the trial level could obviously rule either way: for the defendants — who represent Republicans — or for the plaintiffs — who mainly represent Democrats. But in either scenario, the judges’ ruling won’t be the final word. The loser will appeal to the state Supreme Court, which holds 6-1 Democratic majority.
However, how the case will fare in the high court is debatable. According to Wake Forest University professor John Dinan, the odds are not in the favor of the Republicans:
“At least three of the Democratic-backed judges on the State Supreme Court would have to join the lone Republican-backed colleague in declining to overturn the state’s legislative maps, and I don’t see where those three votes would come from among the six Democratic-backed judges on the court.”
Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr does not think the ruling can be boiled down to mere politics, though. Conrad reports:
Orr served as a justice on the 2002 Stephenson v. Bartlett redistricting case, which raised similar questions about the legality of partisan gerrymandering. Orr said the judges’ political registration may have, in the end, rendered a different understanding of constitutional limitations, but they still have to explain their reasoning in a viable, logical way for other legal scholars.
Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College, does not think this legal reasoning will be simple:
“I could see it going either way… ‘All elections shall be free’ ?— what does that mean? If legislators decide to use partisanship in drawing the lines, are they considered to be free?”
Associate professor at Campbell School of Law, Greg Wallace, notes a similar concern:
“They cannot assess the facts without having some standard to measure those facts by… You can’t decide how long something is unless you’ve got a ruler.”
As for the current appellate trial, according to Conrad:
In a trial that lasted two weeks and ended Friday, the court ran out of time to hear closing statements. Briefs, which will lay out the sides’ concluding summary arguments, are due Aug. 7.