NC argues to overturn its own contribution to the courts in Moore v Harper

North Carolina’s license plates feature the historically debatable slogans “First in Flight” and “First in Freedom,” yet neglect a significant “first” contribution of which our state should be proud: First in Judicial Review.

As a social studies teacher, I’ve found it odd that our state’s penchant for celebrating “firsts” on our license plates has overlooked one of our state’s most significant contributions.

As a concerned citizen, I find it disturbing that the same state who set this precedent is now arguing to undermine it in the Moore v Harper case argued today before the US Supreme Court.

Judicial review has powered our nation forward as a key check-and-balance to settle objections to the government’s use of power in court, instead of on the battlefield.  It empowers the judicial branch to evaluate whether or not actions taken by the executive or legislative branches follow the Constitution. 

Here’s a segment from a civics book in my NC classroom connecting our state’s unique history to this key referee power:

Earlier this year, the NC Supreme Court declared the state’s redistricted congressional maps unconstitutional for violating the state constitution’s “free elections” clause.  The court ruled that the redrawn lines stack the deck on partisan power and therefore misrepresents the will of the people.

This is known as gerrymandering.  Here’s another excerpt from that same NC civics textbook describing the concept:

Republican legislative leaders appealed the case to the US Supreme Court.  North Carolina Speaker of the House Tim Moore is the lead plaintiff in the case.  His side argues that since the US Constitution doesn’t explicitly say the state courts can review the new congressional boundaries drawn by state legislatures, redistricting is therefore the exclusive domain of state legislatures.  

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More simply in this particular scenario, they argue that a state legislature may manipulate those lines to preserve partisan power in congressional representation however they want, even if it violates the NC Constitution, and there’s nothing North Carolina’s courts can do about it.  They claim this is permitted because the US Constitution neither explicitly prohibits partisan gerrymandering, nor grants the power of judicial review to state courts in overseeing congressional redistricting.

Perhaps someone should tell Speaker Moore and his friends that the US Constitution doesn’t directly and explicitly grant federal courts the power of judicial review so his appeal to federal courts undermines his own argument on the need for power to be “explicit” in order to be valid.  

It’s particularly ironic that in NC’s groundbreaking case Bayard v Singleton, one of the lead attorneys arguing in favor of judicial review on behalf of Elizabeth Bayard was Alfred Moore, who would go on to become a US Supreme Court Justice. 

What would he think about another Moore from NC arguing 235 years later that judicial review doesn’t exist, except when he wants judicial review used to enable state manipulation of federal elections?

Our state leaders should celebrate Bayard v Singleton’s precedent making North Carolina “First in Judicial Review,” not actively work to undo that contribution.  If state leaders like Speaker Moore want to leave it in the dust, we should affix it on their license plate as a reminder of its significance to the rest of us.

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