In a week that has generally been bad for legislative Republicans, the state GOP got a big break when a 3-judge panel upheld the constitutionality of the state’s new congressional and legislative maps. Although the decision will likely be appealed, the state Supreme Court is controlled by Republicans and the verdict from the panel was unanimous. This means that it is highly likely that these maps will be in place until the start of the next decade.
While an unfavorable ruling would not have been disastrous for the GOP, it would have necessitated redrawn maps that would be generally more favorable to the state’s Democrats. It would have also brought with it negative media attention. Headlines that the GOP engaged in racial gerrymandering would have probably lent credibility to protester’s and Democrats’ claims that the current legislature is a mean, regressive body. With today’s ruling, the NC GOP avoids these negative news stories. Instead, the architects of the new legislative maps have been vindicated. They can continue to state that they drew maps that are fair and legal. (The “fair” part, of course, is a matter of dispute.)
Although Americans right now have a very low opinion of government, perhaps the lowest in its history, the judiciary is still a respected profession. A court declaring something “constitutional” lends credibility to that legislation. Note the uptick in support for the health care law last year when the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. A ruling of unconstitutional, however, would have likely led to a drop in support. In voters’ eyes, what is constitutional must be good; what is unconstitutional must be evil or at the very least misguided.
Of course, that the new maps have been upheld does not guarantee a decade of Republican control. It merely raises the bar very, very high for Democrats. Although liberals have clearly been energized by the actions of the current Republican majority, it is uncertain whether this energy can be maintained in time for the 2014 elections, especially now that the legislative session is nearing its end. When Republicans reconvene next year, they will be doing so with election season approaching. This will mean a decline in the number of “controversial” bills – not only because Election Day is nearing, but also because much of the GOP’s agenda has already been passed. In general, look for a kinder, gentler GOP next year. But don’t be surprised if a rogue legislator or two puts a monkey wrench in their plans.