Gerrymandering is back in court today. In North Carolina, that’s been a constant for the past thirty years, regardless of who is in charge. This time, we’re in state court. The Supreme Court decided gerrymandering is not a topic for the federal courts.
The fireworks with this case will revolve around files from the late Thomas Hofeller, the GOP’s redistricting maestro. Hofeller’s files fell into possession of his daughter after he died and she, in turn, gave them to Common Cause, the group leading the gerrymandering cases in North Carolina. The files reveal a lot about the motives of the GOP and may show less than honest responses to questions from the courts.
Democrats like their chances in the state court. The case will probably end up at the state Supreme Court where Democrats hold a six-to-one advantage. Democrats want to run under fairer maps in 2020, but there’s not a lot of time to redraw them with primaries less than eight months away.
Some activists seem to think ending gerrymandering will result in a much more Democratic state. It might shift the legislature or Congressional delegation slightly to the left, but it’s not likely to remake North Carolina into a bastion of liberalism. North Carolina is still a center-right state that moves left in reaction to Republican incompetence or overreach more than any desire for more progressive governance.
The last time Democrats had a majority of Congressional seats in the state, under maps drawn by Democrats (but altered by the courts), they held a 7-5 majority. They held that majority with three of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. In today’s environment, I doubt Heath Shuler, Mike McIntyre or Larry Kissell could win a Democratic primary, almost ensuring that those three seats would remain in Republican hands.
The legislature was no different. Moderate to conservative Democrats from rural districts kept the party in control. Those areas have shifted far to the right in the past decade. To win control in a post-gerrymandered state, Democrats will have to find a different equation than they used before 2010.
Gerrymandering needs to be reined in. The GOP majority in North Carolina highlights the most abusive cases when Democrats can win a majority of votes statewide but only end up with three of ten Congressional Districts. However, to win majorities in either house of the legislature under fairer maps, Democrats will still need to win over voters in more conservative districts. Reducing gerrymandering will make the state more competitive, not more liberal.