HBO releases “Divide and Conquer”, a Vice News documentary on the effects of gerrymandering, at 7:30 pm ET tonight. The documentary features interviews and commentary from lawmakers and advocacy groups in North Carolina, a state Vice refers to as “ground zero for the gerrymandering debate.”
In one segment, Common Cause’s college outreach coordinator, Reggie Weaver, describes for correspondent Gianna Toboni how North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a school whose 10,000-member student body is large enough to sway a congressional election, is split between two districts.
By “cracking” such college campuses, neighborhoods, and other communities into multiple districts, lawmakers can dilute the power of their voices and maintain partisan advantage.
After the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected two of North Carolina’s congressional districts in 2016 as racially gerrymandered, leaders of the NC General Assembly declared that new districts would be drawn to maximize partisan advantage for the Republican Party.
Common Cause has filed suit challenging the districts the Assembly created after that decision. Our suit, Common Cause v. Rucho, contends the re-drawn districts violate the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and Article I Sections 2 and 4 of the Constitution. The case is set for trial next month in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, is hopeful about the case’s prospects. “We are excited to be heard by a receptive judicial panel,” Phillips said, adding that the case will be argued primarily from a First Amendment standpoint, as partisan gerrymandering discounts the will of citizens on the basis of their political affiliations.
Regardless of the decision, the losing party will likely appeal to the Supreme Court. The justices already have Gill v. Whitford, a case from Wisconsin with the potential to drastically reshape the redistricting process, on their docket.
The documentary also features former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chris Jankowski, a Republican strategist who designed the Republican Party’s 2011 gerrymandering strategy, REDMAP, which is credited with producing major GOP gains in the following year’s elections.
As California’s chief executive, Schwarzenegger partnered with California Common Cause to win a ballot initiative creating an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, now considered a national model for taking gerrymandering out the hands of partisan lawmakers. The former bodybuilder remains in the thick of the fight; “it is time to terminate gerrymandering,” he declared in a conference call with reporters earlier this month.
The documentary will air first on HBO at 7:30 this evening, ET, and will be available for streaming on HBOgo following its release.
Issues: Voting and Elections