Well, our election cycle is in chaos again. Yesterday, a three-judge panel ordered the state to redraw our Congressional Districts. This time, they ruled that the maps are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. In particular, Judge Jim Wynn’s ruling cited Rep. David Lewis’s comment that he drew districts that favored Republicans 10-3 because he couldn’t figure out how to draw them that would give them an 11-2 advantage.
While gerrymandering needs to be addressed and ended as much as possible, the court’s decision a month before filing begins is disrespectful of the political process. Candidates are already running in districts across the state. They’ve raised and spent thousands of dollars. Now, they don’t know whether they’ve wasted their time, energy and money or not. Maybe they’ll have a district in which to run, maybe they won’t.
It’s the second cycle in a row that the judges have done this to the state. In 2016, I was running. The district where I filed included the county where I grew up, where my parents still live and where my family has property and interests. When the districts were redrawn, that county wasn’t in the new district. Nor were several counties where I had strong networks. I stayed in the race but the disruption threw my campaign into disarray and altered the way I ran my race.
I can tell you that this morning campaigns across North Carolina from both parties are trying to figure out how deal with this decision. I can also tell you that, for challengers, fundraising is about to dry up, at least from in-state donors. Challenger campaigns should work their out of state networks until we know what’s happening. Most folks in other states aren’t paying enough attention to know what just happened. Incumbents will just turn to PACs, because, while their district boundries might be uncertain, they will almost certainly be running. From a financial standpoint, the decision yesterday burdens challengers and strengthens incumbents.
The Republican Party is going to ask the Supreme Court to stay the decision pending appeal. I suspect they will be successful. Two cases concerning partisan gerrymandering are already before the Supreme Court and a ruling is expected this summer.
I’m not a lawyer so I’m interpreting what I’m reading from people who have a better understanding of the laws than I do, but it seems that if the court upholds partisan gerrymandering, they would probably rule against the decision in this case and the districts would stay as they are now. If the court rules against partisan gerrymandering, then we’ll really be in a mess since we’ll be redrawing districts less than six months prior to the general election. There are no good answers.
What’s less clear to me is whether the Supreme Court’s response to the GOP’s request to stay the ruling sheds any light on what’s happening with the partisan gerrymandering cases. If they stay it, is that an indication that they’re probably going to allow partisan gerrymandering to continue? If they deny the stay, is that a sign that they’re about to try to end extreme partisan gerrymandering for good? I don’t know.
The only thing that’s obvious is that both the legislature and the courts have little respect for the election process. The legislature tried to draw districts that don’t reflect the nature of the state and give us no really competitive Congressional districts despite being among the most evenly divided states in the nation. The courts are making decisions in the middle of election years. They may view their decisions as larger than a single election but that’s not much comfort to those are willing to run for office this year.