The Supreme Court stayed the decision of the three-judge panel that found our Congressional districts are unconstitutional gerrymanders. The panel had ordered the districts redrawn this month but the Supreme Court will allow the districts drawn in February 2016 to stand for now. The ruling gives some continuity to the election cycle.
Earlier this month, I complained about the timing of the decision and got roundly criticized by folks on my side of the aisle. One person even said that my opinion was nakedly self-interested. I’ll stick to that opinion.
The original suits accusing the GOP of racial gerrymandering were filed in 2011, shortly after the legislature approved the districts. The court didn’t rule until January 2016 in Congressional districts and May 2016 in legislative districts, almost five years later. The current complaint accusing the court of partisan gerrymandering was filed in August 2016 and the decision was handed down in January 2018, almost a year and a half later. We still don’t have resolution in the legislative redistricting, less than 10 months from the election. As I said before, drawing new districts in an election year gives incumbents a significant advantage, usually rewarding the party that created the unconstitutional gerrymanders.
Since the legislative districts were enacted in 2012, the GOP passed laws that I believe harmed people in this state and are designed to protect or create GOP majorities in towns, counties and the legislature. Their education policies have damaged our public schools and our universities. Their tax laws have shifted the burden from the wealthy to the poor and middle class. Now, they’re trying to rig the court system. These policies passed by unconstitutional bodies won’t be undone.
If it takes the court five years, or even two years, to rule on a case of gerrymandering, what possible incentive does a state have NOT to gerrymander? Even if the court finds that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, why wouldn’t the party in power draw districts that protect that power? They can argue that they’re not partisan or racial gerrymanders and keep control for at least a session or two while the court decides. A legislature can do considerable damage in just one or terms, especially if they draw themselves veto-proof majorities.
Very few decisions by the Supreme Court, or any court for that matter, have as broad an impact as rulings on redistricting. As we’ve seen by the radical shift to the right in North Carolina, almost everybody in the state is directly affected one way or another. If the courts can’t figure out how to act faster, don’t expect to see much change in gerrymandering regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in June. To believe that legislative bodies will strive to comply with constitutional decisions that protect people’s rights is to naively ignore the racial history of the South.
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 >