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Manning, freshman Dems may lose seats under redrawn North Carolina congressional map

The state’s maps are set to be redrawn, and the newly Republican state Supreme Court is unlikely to block a likely GOP gerrymander, experts say

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) campaigns for U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley at the Guilford County Democratic headquarters during a canvassing event on November 7, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The political world has been closely watching Moore v. Harper, a U.S. Supreme Court case launched by North Carolina Republicans that could vastly reshape the way that congressional districts are drawn across the country. But the results of that case may actually have fewer consequences for North Carolina’s own congressional districts, which are set to be redrawn before the 2024 election.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature sought to significantly redraw the state’s congressional map in 2021 to reduce the number of Democratic districts, in the process carving up the Guilford County district represented by Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) and two other districts. The North Carolina Supreme Court, which at the time had a Democratic majority, blocked those plans and instead implemented a map drawn by nonpartisan redistricting experts that ultimately delivered seven Democratic and seven Republican seats.

That process led to the Moore v. Harper case, in which the Republican legislature is asking the Supreme Court to bar court intervention in the drawing of congressional maps. But the state Supreme Court’s 2022 map was temporary, for the last election only, and is set to be redrawn again by the state legislature. Given that the state Supreme Court flipped to Republican control in November, North Carolina political analysts say it’s unlikely that the court would intervene to block the maps, as it has in the past — regardless of the outcome in Moore v. Harper.

“The conventional wisdom is that this new court will be much less sympathetic to gerrymandering claims and will be much more sympathetic to claims of legislative supremacy,” Chris Cooper, the director of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University, told Jewish Insider. “There will almost certainly be lawsuits. They may get to the state Supreme Court. But again, the conventional wisdom is that it is a much more conservative court — the majority of whom were elected with an R next to their name — are not going to stop the Republican general assembly from enacting whatever map they want to.”

Michael Bitzer, the politics department chair at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., noted that state Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby’s dissents in redistricting-related cases make clear he does not believe courts should intervene in redistricting. 

While Bitzer said he does not know for certain how two newly elected Republican justices will land on the issue, “I think with the partisan nature of judicial politics in this state, they would align with the chief justice.”

Bitzer said the state is, for now, in a “holding pattern” until the Moore v. Harper decision is announced, and the legislature will then proceed with drawing maps “as it sees fit.”

He predicted, based on past comments by lawmakers, that Republicans will aim for a map with — at a minimum — 10 Republican and four Democratic districts, but there is a “distinct possibility” of an 11-3 map if Republicans can manage to draw it.

Cooper suggested that the legislature may seek to flip the districts held by Manning — a former Jewish Federations of North America chair who now leads the House’s antisemitism task force — as well as newly elected Reps. Jeff Jackson (D-NC) and Wiley Nickel (D-NC) to the Republican column. Bitzer likewise said Manning’s district is unlikely to be preserved under the new maps.

Amid last week’s deliberations over the House speakership, Cooper argued that North Carolina’s current map helped determine the shape of Republicans’ narrow House majority. “The entire shape of the U.S. House of Representatives is different right now because of the previous makeup of the North Carolina Supreme Court,” Cooper said.

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