When a panel of state judges threw out the Congressional districts in North Carolina last week, we heard a familiar refrain from a lot of Republicans. They claimed the state courts were defying the Supreme Court. That argument is bunk. In reality, the Supreme Court said that redistricting is the purview of the states. It’s a consistent argument and gets to federalism more than gerrymandering. In other instances, we hear conservatives bemoaning the lack of federalism.
Back in early 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the Congressional districts in that state, saying that they clearly violated the state constitution. The court gave lawmakers about three weeks to come up with new maps. Instead, Republicans appealed to the US Supreme Court to halt the order. The court refused to hear the case and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court drew new maps to be used in the 2018 elections.
The case showed the thinking of the US Supreme Court justices. They clearly didn’t believe they had any say over the state’s redistricting process. The court’s decision in June to allow North Carolina’s gerrymandered districts to stand was consistent with the Pennsylvania case. It’s not that that the court believed gerrymandering was fair; they just believe regulating it is the job of the states. Chief Justice John Robert’s said in his decision that the courts would be expanding their authority in ruling on gerrymandering.
Don’t expect the suit filed yesterday by Republicans in federal court to halt redrawing districts to go anywhere. This court has clearly said that it’s not their business. They’ll leave it up the states to figure it out.
The court is showing a consistently conservative stand that harkens back to the old states’ rights debate. Their decisions, or lack there of, in Pennsylvania and North Carolina both argue for federalism. The federal government shouldn’t determine how states draw districts. Right now, that works for Democrats in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. It might not in the future and it might lead to decisions that progressives don’t like.
I’m not a lawyer, so I may be off base here, but that’s what see from a layman’s point of view. The court is being consistent in its decisions. Consistency in philosophy can lead to surprising results for both sides of the aisle but a stable government demands it.
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 >