Stay, just a little bit longer

by | Jan 19, 2018 | Editor's Blog, Redistricting | 2 comments

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.


  1. wILL sNYDER

    The impact of the SCOTUS decision that invalidated the coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that subjected North Carolina and many other states in the South with histories of invidious racial discrimination in voting rights to preclearance by the Justice Department of changes in their voting regulations cannot be understated. Just as soon as the SCOTUS handed down Shelby County v. Holder, the party in control of the NCGA demonstrated by its actions why preclearance of voting regulation changes by the USDOJ was needed to prevent invidious racial discrimination in voting.


    Thomas, gerrymandering will end when the people who draw the maps are not put in power via gerrymandering (ie they are not beholden to the gerrymander system). In NC we already have the law in place to make this happen, however our courts fail to follow the law. What is frustrating is that the lawsuits challenging gerrymandering do not stress the point that gerrymandering, at least for the General Assembly, has already been outlawed in North Carolina through the NC Constitution. The NC Constitution outlaws dividing counties in the formation of voting districts for the NC Senate and House (the General Assembly). Outlawing the division of counties prevents gerrymandering if the law is followed. This NC Constitutional provision mandates multi-member districts and maximization of minority voter power. People opposed to maximization of minority voting power are opposed to this NC Constitutional provision. They have successfully avoided enforcement of the provision. If enough people demanded that the Court order the Constitutional law followed, we could end gerrymandering.
    Following the constitutional law would mean a big change in election procedure. For example, in a district in which four NC House members are to be elected simultaneously, the top four vote-getters win the seats. Voters get a ballot with the list of candidates and voters get to vote for whichever candidates they choose. Suppose there are 12 names on that ballot. Voters get a specified number of votes for the four seats. The votes are not separated by individual house seats: there are four seats so the top four vote-getters get the four seats. Due process of law and equal protection of law require this. Voters don’t vote for seat 1, seat 2, seat 3, & 4. Voters simply vote for candidates and the top four candidates win the seats. If voters get 4 votes, then each voter can cast his or her four votes for whichever candidate or candidates he or she chooses. This is the same whether voters get 4 votes, only 1 vote, 3 votes, 10 votes, or whatever number of votes for those four House members. The voter can give all four (or whatever number of votes the voter has) of his or her votes to the same candidate. Under this system which is already mandated under the NC Constitution in a 4-member district any candidate with the voting support of 20 % + 1 vote is guaranteed a seat because it is not mathematically possible for 4 other candidates to have more votes than that. That means that any minority with 20% + 1 vote of the population can elect the house member of their choice.
    This is already the law. It just isn’t followed.

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