North Carolina Decisions a Clear Step Back for Democracy

A group of protesters holding signs stands in a line
Protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. during oral arguments for the case Rucho v. Commons Cause on March 26, 2019. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center

Last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a trio of disappointing decisions rolling back fundamental protections against partisan gerrymandering, revoking voting rights for individuals with a felony conviction and reinstating a racially discriminatory voter ID requirement.

Make no mistake, these decisions are a huge step back for democracy.

In a healthy democracy, voters choose their politicians – not the other way around. Yet the court’s decision in Harper v. Hall abdicates the court’s role in ensuring voting maps are fair. The court has handed North Carolina state lawmakers virtually unchecked power to manipulate voting maps and lock in their own power in perpetuity.

That these undemocratic decisions came after the court’s majority flipped in 2022 is certainly no coincidence. Following a congressional election in which an independent special master drew fair maps that resulted in a 7-7 partisan split, this unprecedented reversal is a blatant political power grab.

Blame also lies with the U.S. Supreme Court, which washed its hands of any responsibility to address partisan gerrymandering in the 2019 Rucho v. Common Cause decision. This has led to a shifting patchwork of democracy across the fifty states, with voters paying the ultimate price. It is now vital that the Supreme Court step in to uphold our system of checks and balances to preserve the role of state courts in facilitating a healthy democracy.

Additionally, at a time when more and more states are dismantling felony disenfranchisement, a relic of Jim Crow that disproportionately silences Black voters, North Carolina is moving backwards. The court’s decision in Community Success Initiative v. Moore revokes the freedom to vote for people with felony convictions on probation or parole, silencing tens of thousands of Americans who deserve to have a say on the issues that directly impact their lives.

Not only did the North Carolina Supreme Court refuse to reckon with the historical and present-day racial discrimination of felony disenfranchisement, but the decision will also sow widespread confusion among voters as many individuals who are on probation or parole have been eligible to register and vote for the past year.

The state must take immediate action to ensure that those voters are notified of the decision as soon as possible. Moreover, the state legislature must concurrently act to restore the voting rights of all North Carolinians with prior felony convictions to achieve a truly inclusive democracy.

Courts have a vital role in preserving the freedom to vote and ensuring voters are the ones who decide elections, not self-interested politicians. Along with our local partners, CLC will continue to fight for a fairer and more inclusive democracy – one in which every American is guaranteed an equal voice.

Paul is CLC's Senior Vice President.