Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr behind new redistricting lawsuit

Tom George Image
Friday, February 2, 2024
Former state Supreme Court Justice behind new redistricting lawsuit
Another legal challenge is coming to North Carolina's newly drawn congressional maps.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Another legal challenge is coming to North Carolina's newly GOP-drawn congressional maps, this time coming from someone who once served on the state's highest court himself.

Unlike other challenges that have focused on racial discrimination in voting or partisan challenges, this one strikes at the heart of democracy itself - arguing that the state constitution gives North Carolinians the right to fair elections.

It is something the state has contended with for years. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Democratic-drawn NC maps faced challenges and criticism of unfair gerrymandering. More recently, it's been Republicans with the power to draw the lines, and facing legal challenges over the new congressional and legislative districts.

The man behind this suit, is former State Associate Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a former Republican who served on the high court for almost a decade and later became an unaffiliated voter. Orr says by transcending politics and using a group of voters to make a strict constitutional case of why gerrymandering is a violation of the voters' rights, he hopes his fellow judges will listen to the facts.

"The political parties have fought over the maps. This is not about political parties this is about the rights of individual citizens of the voters in very discreet districts, and I just think there's been a presumption that elections are supposed to be fair and as a result, we have not seen any litigation pursue this theory," Orr said.

The suit was filed in Wake County Superior Court, which could eventually rise to the state Supreme Court to get them to look at the legal theory.

In practice, although it may not move the needle at least for the current election cycle, it might lead to change down the road.

"It seems as if the best way you're going to get any kind of change on this, is if the party in charge decides...there may be a likelihood at some point that we lose. And we don't want to be in a position that we were in the past, where we ended up getting the short end of the stick on this, so let's change the process. I don't think we're there right now, but this lawsuit may be part of the process of getting us there," said Mitch Kokai with the John Locke Foundation.

Judge Orr was also part of the panel of special masters who redrew the state's congressional map for 2022 to be more fair after the initial GOP-drawn plan was thrown out. That election led to an even 7-7 split in the Congressional delegation, but once the Supreme Court flipped to Republican control, the decision was reversed, and the new lines were more similar to those initially drawn.

Past political data shows Republicans are favored in 10 or even 11 of the 14 seats in 2024.