In North Carolina, a Pitched Battle Over Gerrymanders and Justices

Mr Woodhouse fought the claims in his columns, and the Supreme Court left the decision to the justices, who both said this month they would hear the case.

“The battle is bigger than the redistricting,” he said. “The real battle is between a Democratic governor and a fairly durable majority in the General Assembly.” The calls for recusal, he said, “took this to an unprecedented level.”

Like North Carolina, some 34 other states allow Supreme Court justices to rule on recusal motions directed at them. Most other states require independent reviews, which even then may not be binding. Judges disqualify, but frequency is unclear.

In the North Carolina case, the defendants in the redistricting lawsuit — the Republican lawmakers who drew and oversaw the political maps — first acted Jan. 6, urging Judge Samuel J. Ervin IV, a Democrat , to recuse himself because he seeks to recuse himself. election in November. (Judge Ervin is the grandson of former Senator Sam Ervin, a longtime Democrat from North Carolina and head of the Senate hearings on the Watergate scandal.) They argued that Judge Ervin should not hear matters of electoral law as long as his race is not decided.

Days later, attorneys for two plaintiffs, the advocacy group Common Cause and an assortment of North Carolina Democrats, demanded that a Republican judge, Phil Berger Jr., drop the case. He is the son of Phil Berger, President of the State Senate, party to the design of the map and, not least, defendant in the case.

Republican lawmakers quickly asked another Democratic judge, Anita Earls, to recuse herself. Justice Earls, founder and former executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, had fought Republican gerrymanders in North Carolina for years before winning the court election in 2018. Republicans noted that coalition lawyers represent Common Cause in the Gerrymander case.

Additionally, they said, Justice Earls’ 2018 campaign received a $199,000 donation that apparently had been funneled through the state Democratic Party from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an arm of the national party. The redistricting committee bears the legal costs of one of the plaintiffs in this case.