Until recently, North Carolina Republicans had a problem. Some of their biggest legislative achievements of the past few years, including a restrictive voter ID law and weakened environmental regulations, were heading for review before the state Supreme Court. Right now, conservative justices hold a tenuous 4-3 majority on that court. But one of the conservative justices was up for re-election in 2016—before several of these matters would reach the court—and he was not guaranteed to win. This meant the Republicans' policy agenda was at risk.
So the Republican-controlled state legislature decided to change the rules of the game. On a party-line vote, the state Senate and House this month passed a bill that does away with that justice's upcoming election and effectively ensures that conservative justices will retain their majority on the state's highest court for years to come. Last week, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure into law.