In a massive win for Greensboro, N.C. and its voters, a federal judge ruled Monday that city council districts drawn by the North Carolina state legislature in 2015 unconstitutionally discriminated against African-Americans and Democratic Party voters.
Until the General Assembly acted, Greensboro was divided into five council districts, each with one representative; three other council members were elected at large. Four of the eight seats were held by African-Americans and Democrats consistently held a comfortable majority.
Lawmakers in Raleigh redrew the lines to create nine single-member districts, and no at-large seats. The new boundaries put several African-American and Democratic council members into common districts, forcing them to run against one another.
That triggered the lawsuit. Plaintiffs represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a nonprofit group concerned with securing minority voting rights and effective participation in elections, challenged the new map on three grounds. They argued the new map patently violated the “one person, one vote” principle, which says that every citizen should have an equal chance to elect representatives of his/her choice. The new lines, they contended, diluted the votes of Democratic voters by packing them together into a few districts.
The plaintiffs also contended that one of the new council districts was plainly gerrymandered along racial lines and that the legislature forbid changes to the method of election through petition or referendum. The bottom line was Greensboro would be treated differently from every other city in North Carolina, without reasonable justification, they argued.
Judge Catherine Eagles agreed. The council districts were clearly drawn to “maximize the success of Republican candidates,” she wrote. There was no legitimate reason for that, clearly violating the “one person, one vote” principle.
Eagles said the legislature’s prohibition on referendums and petitions to change the unfair districts “intentionally treats Greensboro voters differently and lacks any legitimate governmental purpose.”
The court’s order restores the former districts and at-large seats on the Greensboro Council, and with them fair representation in local politics.
Issues: Voting and Elections