North Carolina legislative leaders are doubling down on their investment in un-representative democracy this morning, appealing a scathing federal court decision that congressional districts they fashioned in 2016 unconstitutionally deprived millions of citizens of their right to elect representatives of their choosing.
The announced plan to appeal a three-judge panel’s unanimous ruling late Tuesday in Common Cause v. Rucho means the state will continue to run-up legal bills that already have topped $5.5 million to defend a partisan gerrymandering scheme the court said “has discriminated, and will continue to discriminate, against voters who support non-Republican candidates.”
Partisan gerrymandering “insulates representatives from having to respond to the popular will, and instead renders them responsive to state legislatures or factions thereof,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jim Wynn wrote for the panel.
“Plaintiffs’ evidence is more-than-adequate to establish that the 2016 Plan burdened their political speech and associational rights,” he added.
North Carolina’s appeal will add the Rucho case to a Supreme Court docket that already includes partisan gerrymandering challenges from Wisconsin and Maryland. While striking down past gerrymanders based on race, the high court has been reluctant to consider claims of partisan discrimination; Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote, has signaled he’s open to changing course if the court can fashion a “workable standard” for measuring excessive partisanship.
The justices heard arguments in the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, last fall; they have not set a hearing date for the Maryland case, Benisek v. Lamone
Like Rucho, the Gill case challenges a pro-Republican gerrymander; in Maryland, a Democrat-drawn map that manipulated district lines to defeat veteran Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in 2012 is under scrutiny.
Wynn’s 191-page opinion declared that the NC districts drawn by Republican leaders locked in a 10-3 GOP advantage in the state’s congressional delegation. The evidence indicated only partisan discrimination could produce such a result, the opinion concluded; statisticians who ran thousands of computer map-making simulations using approved redistricting criteria that do not take partisanship into account could not duplicate the GOP edge.
The decision is the first in which a court has concluded that partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts violates the First and Fourth amendments of the Constitution. The NC map is so skewed in favor of Republican candidates that Democratic voters see little reason to turnout and so are effectively deprived of their free speech rights, Wynn wrote.
“Every American deserves representation in Washington, but the gerrymandered map struck down by the court today robbed much of the state of a representative voice in the nation’s capital,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “Today’s decision is a victory for democracy and a victory for North Carolinians who were carved out of any real choice in their elected representatives in Washington. Partisan gerrymanders are quite simply undemocratic and that is why Common Cause has fought them in the courts whether the lines were drawn by Republicans in North Carolina or Democrats in Maryland.”
“This is a true victory for North Carolina voters,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. “At long last, politicians in our state will no longer be allowed to use partisan gerrymandering in order to shield themselves from accountability to the public.”
Issues: Voting and Elections