The chatter about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday concerning North Carolina’s redistricting is largely much ado about nothing. That hasn’t stopped progressives from celebrating, but it’s time to throw cold water on their hopes.
Some have suggested that the Court has “thrown out” the GOP-drawn legislative districts. That’s not accurate, and the Court hasn’t ruled one way or the other on the validity of the maps. Instead, the Court is simply saying that the current rationale for the maps no longer applies, and are asking the NC Supreme Court to make a new ruling in light of their decision in the Alabama case. It’s possible the GOP-controlled Supreme Court will come up with another rationale in defense of the maps. The best defense would be that the districts were drawn for partisan, not racial, reasons. In that case, the districts stay the same.
Because redistricting law is notoriously complicated, I’m not going to venture much further into the legal side of things. I think the likeliest outcome, though, is that a few of the more egregiously drawn districts will be struck down as racial gerrymanders, requiring the General Assembly to make some alterations. The result will be minimal changes in the district configurations. Such changes will almost certainly benefit Democrats and make a few districts more competitive than they are under the current maps, but any significant change in the legislative maps is very unlikely.
If the General Assembly is forced to go back to the drawing board, this will probably intensify calls for nonpartisan redistricting. The legislature isn’t likely to throw Democrats a bone. Instead, they’ll argue that the district maps are perfectly fine the way they are, with a few exceptions which will require only slight alterations. Why substantially reshuffle the districts in the middle of the decade and risk voter chaos and confusion?
The bottom line: as a result of the Court’s decision yesterday, the chances of the Democrats pulling off the near-impossible and taking back the General Assembly this decade has increased, very slightly. We don’t know if the present maps will even require change at all, but the chance of that happening is much higher than it was two months ago. It’s a small victory, but they’ll take it.