It has often been said that the US South is the testing ground for American democracy, which makes it frustrating how little attention national Democrats and their media pals give to Southern politics.
A case in point is the decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court on April 28th, to reverse a series of election-related rulings that were handed down just months ago by the same court when it was dominated by Democrats.
Among the decisions reversed by the new court was one declaring state and congressional voting maps illegal gerrymanders drawn to favor Republicans.
North Carolina is a closely divided state. It currently sends 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats to Congress. Permitted to gerrymander its maps as it has before, this state is likely to send 11 Republicans and three Dems to Washington in 2024. That skew would cement Republican power in the US House.
That’s one good reason for national Democrats to listen up. But there’s another one too.
In the General Assembly in Raleigh, Republicans hold supermajority power. (They’re good at gerrymandering as I’ve mentioned.) On April 28th, the court not only threw out the prior verdict on maps. They also gave state lawmakers carte blanche to hold elections as they like, declaring that only they — and no governor or court — has any oversight.
“Our constitution expressly assigns the redistricting authority to the General Assembly” wrote Chief Justice Paul Newbry in an opinion that effectively captured a crackpot legal notion known as the Independent State Legislature Theory.
It’s wacky — we’ve all been taught about the balance of powers. They’re written into the US Constitution. But the Independent State Legislature theory is currently before the Supreme Court, and the two most powerful politicians in Ohio’s General Assembly have weighed in favor.
What do North Carolina and Ohio have in common? In 2022, both states’ supreme courts struck down their Republican legislatures’ gerrymanders, and Democrats gained seats last November as a result. They both also elected new GOP-majorities to their supreme courts. If the Justices in DC throw out the North Carolina case, which is called Moore v. Harper, we could see Ohio bring a similar case soon. The lawyers then will have North Carolina’s state court decision to cite as precedent.
It’s a devastating blow to democracy, Josh Stein, North Carolina’s Attorney General told me on April 29th. Sadly, happening outside of DC, and disadvantaging a Democratic voting base that is disproportionately African American, it’s a story that has yet to resonate nationally. Stein, and the good organizers mounting push back in North Carolina aren’t all over the news as they should be. But make no mistake, it’s not the South, it’s the entire US that will pay a price for what’s happening. And it’s not just Southern Democrats in trouble. It’s democracy.
You can catch our latest report, on Moore v. Harper and the war on Democracy taking place in North Carolina, on the Laura Flanders Show this month on public television stations across the country, or stream or subscribe to the Laura Flanders Show podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.