September 29, 2022/Media, Press

North Carolina’s Supreme Court Elections Could Determine the Future of Voting Rights in This State

This week, the American Independent released a series of articles outlining the critical importance of North Carolina’s Supreme Court elections in determining the future of voting rights in North Carolina. The series also takes note of dark money from organizations with ties to Senate Leader Berger being funneled into Trey Allen’s Supreme Court campaign and the “glaring” conflict of interest presented by Berger’s son, Justice Phil Berger Jr., sitting on cases where his father is listed as a defendant.

Key Point:For the past several years, the state’s highest court has prevented some Republican lawmakers’ ploys from taking permanent partisan control of the state Legislature, including ongoing attempts to gerrymander and disenfranchise many of the state’s Black voters.”

Read more on this article series on the critical importance of NC’s Supreme Court election:

American Independent: How North Carolina’s Supreme Court election could determine the future of voting rights

  • This fall, North Carolina voters will have a chance to decide who controls the state Supreme Court. While state judicial races often get overlooked, they often have huge implications for residents for years to come.

  • For the past several years, the state’s highest court has prevented some Republican lawmakers’ ploys from taking permanent partisan control of the state Legislature, including ongoing attempts to gerrymander and disenfranchise many of the state’s Black voters.

  • Though many of the GOP’s efforts, led by state Sen. Phil Berger, the president pro tempore of the Senate, have been blocked by the court, its influence on state elections could change come November if just one of the two Democrats running for spots on the Supreme Court loses.

  • In February, the state Supreme Court struck down newly drawn maps for North Carolina’s 14 congressional districts. It was the culmination of a yearslong legal battle in which the state’s GOP appealed several lower court decisions that found the new map to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

  • In a decision split along party lines, the Supreme Court affirmed that the maps, which were drawn and passed by the Legislature’s Republican majority, violated the state Constitution by depriving voters of their “right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation.” Ruling in the case of Harper v. Hall, the majority found that “the General Assembly diminished and diluted the voting power of voters affiliated with one party on the basis of party affiliation.”

  • The ruling was celebrated as a huge win for Democrats and voting rights advocates, but it was short-lived. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would consider an appeal from North Carolina Republicans that would determine whether state courts actually have the authority to order changes to federal elections, including redistricting.

American Independent: The dark money network backing a conservative North Carolina Supreme Court candidate

  • Campaign cash has poured in to support the state Supreme Court candidates, with most contributions coming from individual donors. But an investigation by the American Independent Foundation uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in dark money contributed to the campaign of Trey Allen, the Republican candidate seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Justice Sam Ervin IV.

  • Allen so far has raised $540,000 from individual contributors. But an analysis of campaign finance documents has revealed that a little-known PAC called True Conservative Judges, registered at a post office box in Raleigh, has spent more than $300,000 directly in support of Allen’s campaign. That money went toward a conservative political consulting firm called The Differentiators for “direct mail,” according to the latest political committee disclosure form that True Conservative Judges filed with the North Carolina State Board of Elections in July.

  • The Differentiators was founded in 2019 by two North Carolina Republican political operatives named Ray Martin and Jim Blaine. Both men used to work for Republican Sen. Philip Berger, the president pro tempore of the state Senate. Berger hired Martin, a former newspaper reporter for the News & Observer in Raleigh, as the state Senate’s press secretary, while Blaine served as Berger’s chief of staff from 2011 to 2018.

  • A form filed by True Conservative Judges with the Board of Elections in May lists a $590,000 contribution from an organization called the Good Government Coalition, with a listed address of a UPS store in Springfield, Virginia. The Good Government Coalition is tax-exempt and describes itself as a “national organization dedicated to electing the next generation of Republican leaders to state governments across America,” but lists no information on its website about its leadership, its personnel, or the source of its funding. The latest news post on its website is from September 2020.

American Independent: The North Carolina Supreme Court has a glaring conflict of interest problem

  • If Republicans gain control of the court, state Sen. Phil Berger, the president pro tempore, will have a direct connection to the majority.

  • His son, Phil Berger Jr., is an associate justice on the court.

  • The younger Berger has refused to recuse himself from cases involving his father.

  • While the apparent conflict of interest of a father in the legislative branch and a son in the judicial branch of a state’s government has come up before, observers say that a Republican majority on the Supreme Court will make the issue much more worrisome, especially given that the elder Berger is set to be a party to lawsuits before the court.

  • “Even when I talk to my friends and family back home who aren’t lawyers or don’t follow politics closely, they can wrap their heads around why it’s messed up for a son to decide a father’s lawsuit,” said Billy Corriher, a former lawyer and writer who specializes in judicial selection, voting rights, and the courts in North Carolina.