By Joseph Ax and Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) -North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature on Wednesday approved a new congressional map that should allow the party to flip at least three Democratic seats in the 2024 election, a major boost to Republican chances of maintaining their narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The vote by state lawmakers is not subject under North Carolina law to a veto from Governor Roy Cooper, who has joined his fellow Democrats in decrying the new map as a partisan power grab.
The House of Representatives passed the new map along party lines on Wednesday afternoon, after the Senate did the same on Tuesday.
The map creates 10 safely Republican districts, three Democratic districts and one highly competitive seat, centered in the eastern part of the state.
Democrats would have to flip five seats in the 435-seat U.S. House next year to regain control of that chamber.
"There's no doubt the congressional map that's before you today has a lean toward Republicans," said Representative Destin Hall, a Republican, who added that the process had abided by the state constitution and was a natural result of the political makeup of the chamber.
Activists opposing the redistricting gathered at the state Capitol on Wednesday to criticize the maps, saying they were designed to weaken the political voice of communities of color.
“These proposed maps further destroy the guardrails of democracy,” said Karen Zeigler, lead organizer for Democracy Out Loud.
The opportunity to enact a map more favorable to Republicans was delivered by the state Supreme Court, after voters elected more conservatives to the court in last year's elections.
The previous Democratic-majority court had thrown out an earlier Republican-drawn map, ruling that extreme political gerrymandering - the process by which lawmakers manipulate district lines to marginalize voters of one party - violated the state constitution.
As a result, the 2022 congressional elections took place under a court-drawn map, yielding an even split of the state's 14 districts between Republicans and Democrats.
After the election, however, the court's new conservative majority reversed that decision and ruled that gerrymandering is not constitutionally prohibited.
Republican lawmakers also approved new state legislative maps that independent experts say make it likely they will be able to maintain their current super-majority in each chamber, giving them the ability to override gubernatorial vetoes.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Gabriella BorterEditing by Colleen Jenkins and Deepa Babington)