How Eric Holder Tipped the Scales in North Carolina’s Redistricting Fight

Former Attorney General Eric Holder / AP
February 22, 2022

A North Carolina judge who received $200,000 in contributions from former attorney general Eric Holder's partisan redistricting network could soon cast the decisive vote in a legal battle over the state’s congressional maps.

The Holder-backed judge, Anita Earls, serves on the North Carolina Supreme Court, which will likely have the final say over which congressional maps the state adopts. The seven-member court earlier this month rejected maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature and is expected to knock down a revised proposal Republicans submitted on Feb. 16. A rejection of Republican maps would be a win for Holder, who formed several redistricting organizations in 2017 to draw congressional districts favorable to Democrats.

Republicans say Earls’s ties to Holder are a conflict of interest and warrant her recusal from the redistricting case. They point to the former attorney general’s endorsement of Earls in 2018, and his redistricting group’s massive donation to her campaign. Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation, which sued Republicans over their maps in November, took credit for the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month.

"Monied interests appear to have bought a supreme court justice to decide this redistricting case," state senator Amy Galey (R., N.C.) told the Washington Free Beacon.

"Eric Holder paid six figures to elect Earls so she could decide this case," said Galey, who added that Earls should have recused herself from the redistricting case. Earls rejected calls last month to recuse herself from the litigation.

The North Carolina Supreme Court, which has four Democrats and three Republicans, could potentially weigh in on maps drawn by Holder’s organizations. A three-judge panel has until Feb. 23 to rule on the General Assembly’s proposed map. The panel can accept the map, or adopt one of the maps submitted by outside groups. It is unclear what groups have submitted maps, but the National Redistricting Foundation said this month it "looks forward to participating in the redrawing process."

Holder endorsed Earls in 2018 amid his push to elect state judges for the purpose of adopting Democrat-friendly congressional maps. Holder has claimed the groups seek "fair maps" across the country, but tax filings for Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee say its goal is "to build a comprehensive plan to favorably position Democrats for the redistricting process through 2022."

To aid the cause, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s PAC gave maximum donations of $5,200 directly to Earls’s campaign, and appears to have funneled another $200,000 to her through the North Carolina Democratic Party. Holder endorsed Earls on Sept. 12, 2018, eight days before the National Democratic Redistricting Committee gave $250,000 to the North Carolina Democratic Party’s judicial fund. The party sent Earls’s campaign $199,000 a few weeks later, according to campaign filings. The party did not respond to requests for comment about the contributions to Earls.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee works in concert with the National Redistricting Foundation and National Redistricting Action Fund, a dark money group heavily funded by Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss.

The hefty donations to Earls are not without precedent for Holder’s network. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee spent $165,000 on ads for Wisconsin Supreme Court judge Rebecca Dallet in 2018 and spent $350,000 for Lisa Neubauer's failed Wisconsin Supreme Court bid in 2019. Holder’s committee has targeted Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania most aggressively in its redistricting campaign.

Holder made clear in his endorsement of Earls he was backing her in order to influence redistricting in the Tar Heel State.

"North Carolina is ground zero for gerrymandering," Holder said. "We have to put more people in the State House, State Senate, and we need to have Anita Earls as the next N.C. Supreme Court Justice. She is a great lawyer, she has a great history, she will be a great judge."

Earls has not disappointed Holder’s organization and other progressive groups. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group involved in the North Carolina redistricting litigation, called the court’s decision earlier this month a major win for voters who care about "environmental justice and climate action."

"This historic decision follows years of work challenging gerrymandered maps in the Tar Heel State by Eric Holder and the National Redistricting Foundation," said the foundation, which sued Republicans on behalf of a group of voters on Nov. 18.

While Holder has accused Republicans of illegally gerrymandering maps in North Carolina and other states, he has stayed silent on the redistricting in New York, where Democrats passed what has been called the most "egregious" gerrymander in the country so far this cycle. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D., N.Y.) approved a map that could create a seven-seat House swing in favor of Democrats.

Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias pushed for the highly gerrymandered New York maps. He is also the lead lawyer on the National Redistricting Foundation’s lawsuit in North Carolina and has represented Holder’s network on other litigation.