Today is gerrymandering day at the Supreme Court. The court will hear cases from North Carolina and Maryland to determine whether extreme gerrymanders in redistricting are constitutional or not. In North Carolina, Republican legislators drew districts that gave them a 10-3 advantage in Congressional districts despite having a roughly evenly divided state. In Maryland, Democrats drew districts that eliminated a Republican district, leaving only a single Republican district in the state.
The court could rule that partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional. It’s been reluctant to do so in the past but the extremity of North Carolina’s maps makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Republicans freely admitted that they wanted to disenfranchise people in the state by drawing maps that reduced competition and watered down democracy. The Republicans best retort so far has been that Democrats did it first.
In an article in The Atlantic, mapmakers Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise defended their gerrymanders by saying the courts kept “moving the goalposts” so they wanted clarity from court. They also implied that Democrats’ lawsuits were new to the process. In fact, Republicans began suing in the 1980s when Democrats held the majority and sued almost continuously until Republicans took control in 2010.
In their article, they claim Republicans won in 2010 under maps drawn by Democrats, implying that Democrats could also win under Republican maps. In fact, the maps in 2010 had been made more favorable to Republicans as a result of lawsuits in the early part of the decade. In 2002, a Superior Court judge threw out the legislative districts drawn by Democrats and drew his own. For the rest of the decade, the legislative districts were more favorable to Republicans than the Democratic majority might have drawn.
When Republicans took over the redistricting process in 2011, they took gerrymandering to a new level. They hired a professional mapmaker to draw districts using sophisticated GIS technology that wasn’t even available a decade earlier. They sliced and diced the state, picking voters to create districts that would assure Republican majorities in legislative and Congressional districts for decades to come. Democracy would be relegated to statewide elections.
The Supreme Court could decide that political gerrymandering is wrong and North Carolina would need to draw new Congressional districts. Or they could decide that it’s okay and that the districts work just fine. Or they could say it’s a state problem and let the courts in each state deal with it, in which case the North Carolina Supreme Court would have authority. With a 6-1 Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court, that’s probably not an outcome Republicans want.
The only consistent feature of North Carolina legislative and Congressional districts right now is their inconsistency. They change regularly due to lawsuits brought by both sides. Ever since Republicans took control of the legislature, they’ve been fixing what ain’t broke, leaving the state a laughingstock much of the time. They’ve upended the University system and left it in perpetual turmoil. They restructured our public schools to leave us with lower teacher pay and per pupil spending. They scrapped our Medicaid program that was seen as model for the nation and left uncertainty and a broken mental health system. The list goes on, but the one thing that almost everybody agrees IS broken, is the redistricting process. They could fix that but they won’t, opting to leave it up to the courts.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >