The parity of NC Democrats in the congressional delegation may be fleeting

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dated: 2022-11-19 20:50:06 .

RALEIGH, NC (AP) – FOR SATURDAY, 11/19; PHOTOS ALREADY LINKED — afrizzell edited

Democrats celebrated a victory this month in what was billed as North Carolina’s only U.S. House race, as Sen. Wiley Nickel’s narrow victory over Republican Bo Hines in the 13th Congressional District helped ride every national GOP wave – and weaken in the middle of the mandate.

Nickel’s victory creates a 7-7 split in the state delegation and marks the best showing by state Democrats after a decade of trailing the GOP in an otherwise tightly divided state. Trial judges drew the district’s final lines after redistricting litigation successfully blocked maps passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that could have reduced Democrats to four seats.

“We’re a 50-50 country — we should have a 7-on-7 delegation,” Nickel told The Associated Press during a break in his congressional briefing in Washington this week. “When we have fair maps, we get fair results that reflect the voters’ choices.”

But there’s a good chance that Nickel’s districts in the Raleigh area and others will be dramatically reshuffled for the 2024 election, returning the advantage to Republicans.

The confluence of events opens the door for General Assembly Republicans to adopt their preferred 2023 congressional ticket and use it next year. The new Republican majority on the State Supreme Court is likely to be more skeptical of legal challenges alleging excessive bias.

“Seven Seven does not reflect the will of the voters of North Carolina,” House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters the day after the election. “So it should be something else. I don’t know what it is. But at the end of the day…we trust the voters of this state.”

Republicans will hold eight of the 13 US districts by the end of the year. Population growth gave North Carolina a 14th place finish in the November election.

GOP lawmakers vehemently opposed a split opinion in the state Supreme Court last winter, which struck down a more favorable ticket for their party, saying the state constitution forbids partisan gerrymandering.

State law requires that a referee-drawn card be used only for that year’s races. Republicans will still have majorities in the House and Senate comfortable enough to pass their election ticket over the next year. Redistricting plans are not subject to a Democratic governor’s veto stamp. Roy Cooper.

Most importantly, Republicans will have a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court next January if Trey Allen and Richard Dietz win seats currently held by registered Democrats.

The current 4-3 Democratic majority ruled that the congressional and legislative plans approved by the General Assembly in November 2021 illegally gave Republicans a huge advantage over Democrats. The three dissenting Republican justices wrote that the Constitution does not expressly prohibit or limit partisan advantage in map-making.

The arrival of two more Republican judges makes it more likely — but not certain — that the court will uphold the congressman’s future credentials while throwing out last year’s landmark ruling that defined party manipulation as illegal.

Senate President Phil Berger said he expects the state will now move away from what he called a “judicial gerrymander” to “what I think would be a different drawing of congressional maps.”

It is too early to say what the next steps of Congress will be. The plans, approved by the Legislature but never implemented, would have allowed Republicans to win 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats.

Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, said Nickel would be a likely target for Republican lawmakers to place in a more GOP-leaning district.

Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson, who won the newly created 14th District seat, which includes parts of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties, and Democratic state Sen. Kathy Manning of Greensboro, who won her third term, are also at risk, Bitzer said.

It is possible that the postponement of the Supreme Court is pointless. The congressional ID litigation is before the U.S. Supreme Court and could result in state courts losing the ability to rule on laws that affect federal elections, including seat boundaries. Oral arguments are scheduled for next month in a case in which lawyers for Berger and Moore argue that the U.S. Constitution delegates the “time, place and manner” of congressional elections exclusively to state legislatures.

“Even if they fail at the U.S. Supreme Court, they now have a Supreme Court that is most likely to honor whatever the legislature proposes and uphold any precedent,” Bitzer said.

Bitzer’s analysis of North Carolina state contests since 2008 shows Republican candidates winning nearly 51% of the cumulative vote, compared to 47% for Democrats. But the authors of the state Supreme Court’s prevailing and dissenting opinions last February rejected the idea that a political party should be guaranteed seats over time in proportion to its percentage of support at the ballot box.

Nickel said he’s not worried about what the future card looks like.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to make real bipartisan gains at the next convention, so the focus is really on that,” Nickel said. “Eventually they’ll draw new cards, but I’m optimistic that we’ll have somewhere to run to then.”

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Schoenbaum is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. America’s Report is a nonprofit national service program that brings reporters into local newsrooms to cover classified topics.

Gary D. Robertson and Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press

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