On Monday, the three-judge panel hearing North Carolina’s redistricting cases handed down two consequential decisions in the span of a few minutes. The first upheld the new legislative maps drawn by the general assembly. The second required the legislature to draw new Congressional districts.
Progressives groaned at the court’s decision to allow the new legislative maps. They believe the new districts still have too much of a partisan skew. Republicans, though, argued that the process was more transparent and fair than any in recent decades. Former UNC President Tom Ross, who is leading a coalition calling for nonpartisan redistricting, probably summed it up best when he said, “The bottom line is the process was a meaningful improvement, even if not perfect, and the outcomes were fairer, even if not ideal in everyone’s mind.”
Expect a similar response to the new Congressional districts coming down the pike. They will probably still retain a bit of a Republican lean, but the process will be far better than the one that has left us with a 10-3 GOP advantage in a state that is evenly divided. Progressives will bemoan the fact that politicians are still drawing maps but until the law is changed, they will need to be satisfied with better maps, not perfect ones.
But let’s get real. Progressives’ commitment to redistricting reform is recent while the process has been going on for decades. A little over a decade ago, when Republicans were suing for better maps and introducing legislation to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission, progressives weren’t protesting the process and demanding Democrats end gerrymandering. They didn’t find their outrage until Republicans took control.
The rules in North Carolina state that the legislature draws the maps. Democrats had a chance to change that when they were in power. They intentionally left the process in place because they believed they would be drawing them in 2010, but they also believed that to the victors go the spoils and redistricting was part of the spoils.
They didn’t anticipate districts so heavily gerrymandered that they locked in lopsided GOP majorities in both chambers of the legislature and in the Congressional districts. They certainly didn’t anticipate a 10-3 GOP Congressional advantage without a single competitive district. Democrats had been naively drawing their own districts with legislative staffers. Republicans brought in partisan professionals to get the absolute best outcome for the GOP. The result was the most heavily gerrymandered state in the nation that denied citizens a voice and rigged the system to favor one party.
Republicans probably could have left the system in tact if they hadn’t overreached so badly. The districts were offensive to everyone who looked at them except the mapmakers. Now, they either need to fix the process by putting in barriers to extreme gerrymandering or expect to lose in court every time. And they should fix it so we can just end all of the hypocrisy on both sides.
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 >