How much time and money will be wasted and how many North Carolinians will be denied their fundamental right to elect representatives of their choosing before the state legislature gives up its fight to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts?
The question grows out of a U.S. Supreme Court decision this morning upholding a lower court ruling that NC lawmakers discriminated against African-American voters in drawing 28 state legislative districts. And the answer has implications that extend far beyond the Tar Heel State.
With no announced dissent, the justices found North Carolina’s case so lacking in merit that they declined to schedule a hearing. They dealt the state a similar rebuff last week in upholding a lower court ruling that set aside two NC congressional district as racially gerrymandered.
In response to that decision, state lawmakers have drawn new congressional lines, this time skewed to maximize Republican voting strength and ensure the GOP controls most the state’s 13 seats in the House of Representatives. While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans on the voter rolls, 10 of the state’s 13 House members are Republicans.
Common Cause is pursuing a separate lawsuit, Common Cause v. Rucho, to challenge partisan gerrymandering; the case is set for trial later this year. The Supreme Court currently is considering whether to hear arguments on a similar case from Wisconsin. Its decision, of course, would set a national precedent
"We applaud the US Supreme Court for once again decisively showing that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional and unacceptable,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “However, we have seen Republican legislative leaders respond to previous court rulings against their racial gerrymandering by then brazenly gerrymandering along partisan lines with similar effect — creating voting districts that continue to deprive North Carolinians of a voice in choosing their representatives.
"We are hopeful that, like racial gerrymandering, the federal courts will ultimately ban partisan gerrymandering.”
While agreeing that the 28 legislative districts involved in today’s ruling are unconstitutional, the high court ordered judges in North Carolina to take another look at their order that the state legislature draw new, racially equitable, districts and hold a special election to fill them this year.
Such an election is still possible but before ordering it, the lower court did not fully consider factors such as “the severity and nature of the particular constitutional violation, the extent of the likely disruption to the ordinary processes of governance if early elections are imposed, and the need to act with proper judicial restraint when intruding on state sovereignty,” the justices wrote.
Issues: Voting and Elections