Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Author: 2021 will bring ‘unfettered festival of partisan gerrymandering’ after SCOTUS ruling

David Daley

North Carolina courts could be on the cusp of changing the rules when it comes to partisan redistricting, but other states might not be so inclined following the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count, spoke with Policy Watch on Wednesday about the future of democracy in America. He was not hopeful.

“I think what you’re going to see in 2021 is an absolute unfettered festival of partisan gerrymandering, the likes of which we’ve never seen before because the Supreme Court has essentially given a green light by saying you don’t have to worry,” he said.

The high court ruled at the end of June that partisan gerrymandering challenges were out of the reach of federal courts. It pointed to the states to decide how to control redistricting, which will likely lead to a patchwork of different laws across the country.

Daley has spent significant time researching and writing about gerrymandering. His book, Ratf**ked, examines the rise of the Republican Party through strategic gerrymandering efforts and explores how it’s affected democracy in America.

He said the Supreme Court ruling means that Republican gerrymanders from 2011 will continue to provide red seawalls that likely will continue to exist for another decade. It might change if Democrats can find a way to win back one of the chambers in areas like Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida, but they haven’t been able to do that over the past decade.

In states where one party controls the redistricting process, Daley speculated that voters will witness them “go all out to maximize the maps to their advantage” and they’ll have terabytes of voter data and the most sophisticated mapping software ever used to slice America up even more than they already have.

He said that Republicans have taken redistricting much more seriously than Democrats over the past 40 years. While Democrats spent the past decade trying to undo the red wave, Republicans were thinking about the next redistricting cycle and how the citizenship Census question could help the mapmaking process.

“It’s strategists like Tom Hofeller who were always able to peer around the corner and see what’s better next time, while Democrats seem to focus on catching up to the last fight,” he said. “That’s galaxy brain of redistricting.”

Hofeller died last year, but he was a renowned GOP mapmaker, including in North Carolina. His digital files are at the center of a state court battle after his daughter gave them to the plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis following his death.

The files already unveiled his involvement in the formation of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census — which is still an ongoing legal fight — but court watchers have said those documents could contain a lot of more information about the inner workings of the Republican Party’s redistricting strategies.

Regardless of if the documents will eventually come to light, Daley said he expects redistricting fights to look a lot different in the future after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

He’s optimistic about North Carolina’s opportunity, though, to put limits on partisan gerrymandering. The trial in Common Cause v. Lewis will begin at 10 a.m. Monday. It’s expected the whole nation will be watching, but especially those from North Carolina who have been fighting for fair maps for years.

Tomas Lopez, Executive Director of Democracy NC, said his group will be watching and he’s hopeful the state courts recognize the claims before them.

“All of us who support fair maps are going to keep fighting for them, and that effort includes legislative solutions like Senate Bill 673’s Gold Standard Citizens Redistricting Commission,” he said. “As we wait for our state courts to have their say, this legislative proposal would finally and formally take the power to draw maps away from lawmakers, remove the incentive to rig maps regardless of who’s in power, and elevate citizen input over partisanship. For North Carolinians, these and other state-level redistricting reforms and anti-gerrymandering rulings can’t come quickly enough.”

SB 673 is one of a half a dozen bills pending at the legislature this session — none have been scheduled for a hearing.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Common Cause NC will consider dropping lawsuit after lawmakers pass ‘gold-standard’ redistricting reform

If Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and other GOP legislative leaders want Common Cause NC to drop its partisan gerrymandering lawsuit, they’re going to have to enact redistricting reform first.

“If Republican legislative leaders had enacted real redistricting reform — like they repeatedly called for and sponsored when Democrats were in power — litigation would never have been necessary,” said Executive Director Bob Phillips. “Instead, they have blocked reform and engaged in blatant partisan gerrymandering of our state’s voting districts.”

The organization sent a news release to media Monday morning responding to Lewis’ formal call last week for them to drop the lawsuit in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stay out of federal partisan gerrymandering claims.

Lewis incorrectly told reporters at a press conference that the high court’s opinion set a precedent that courts could not weigh in on partisan gerrymandering — it’s up to lawmakers to regulate redistricting. The opinion, however, acknowledges states’ efforts in the battle against partisan gerrymandering and specifically mentions a Florida state Supreme Court opinion.

He called on Common Cause and other plaintiffs in the state lawsuit to drop it and engage in conversation with legislators about reform.

Common Cause NC has been lobbying for redistricting reform for more than a decade — neither party has passed any measures to take on the issue of partisan gerrymandering. There are currently six redistricting reform bills pending at the legislature, none of which have been scheduled for even a hearing this session.

Phillips said in the Monday news release that if Lewis is sincere about pursuing redistricting reform, he can start with the 2009 ‘Horton Independent Redistricting Commission’ bill, which he, along with now House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, sponsored at the time. That bill called for adoption of a state constitutional amendment creating an independent citizens commission to draw North Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts free from partisan politics, with full transparency and robust public input.

“So, we call upon Rep. Lewis and his fellow Republican legislative leaders to enact a true citizens redistricting commission now, and only after passing into law a gold-standard model of reform would we consider his request,” Phillips said.

Lewis responded on Twitter that he had not received any communication or the press release from Common Cause.

“The only commission bill filed in the House would let Democrats pick roughly 2/3 of the commission,” he added. “Not a good basis for a conversation and far from a ‘gold-standard.'”

The Common Cause v. Lewis trial is set to start July 15. A pre-trial hearing is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Defending Democracy, immigration

More calls to close migrant detention centers; UN Human Rights Chief ‘appalled’ by conditions

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Monday calling the conditions of detention centers on the southern U.S. border degrading and appalling. Michelle Bachelet stressed that children should never be held in immigration detention or separated from their families. Here’s more from the UN Human Rights’ statement:

“Detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions can have a serious impact on their health and development – consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue.” The High Commissioner noted that immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child.

“States do have the sovereign prerogative to decide on the conditions of entry and stay of foreign nationals. But clearly, border management measures must comply with the State’s human rights obligations and should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants,” she added.

“In most of these cases, the migrants and refugees have embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger. When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions. This should never happen anywhere.”

Last week more than 300 people gathered outside the office of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis in Raleigh to demand he take a stand against the Trump administration’s detention policy.

Click below to listen to our interview with El Pueblo Political Director Moisés Serrano on the need to close these facilities, and what North Carolinians can do to make a difference:

This Friday (July 12th) fifteen vigils are planned across North Carolina at part of worldwide protests of the detention camps at the southern border.

Learn more about Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps here.

Local events include:

  • In Durham @ 7:00pm at CCB Plaza, 201 N Corcoran St, Durham
  • In Raleigh @ 7:00pm at Bicentennial Plaza, 1 E. Edenton Street, Raleigh
  • In Greensboro @ 6:30pm at Governmental Plaza 110 S Greene St, Greensboro
Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Plaintiffs ask three-judge panel to halt voter ID implementation

A three-judge panel is considering blocking North Carolina’s latest attempt to require a photo ID at the ballot box because the plaintiffs in a lawsuit allege the new law is racially discriminatory and will result in eligible voters being disenfranchised.

“North Carolina is not operating on a blank slate here — the legislature has been trying for years now to enact voter ID,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

She represents six voters who filed the lawsuit the day Senate Bill 824 was enacted. North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment in the fall that requires a photo ID to vote, but it was broad and the bill implementing it is narrow in terms of what type of identification will be accepted.

Two of the plaintiffs are disabled and don’t have photo IDs but have spent a considerable amount of time trying to get them; two are students who are likely to get caught in the hurdle ahead of which schools IDs will be permitted and which won’t; and the two other individuals have photo IDs and used them the last time a voter ID law was enacted but still were disenfranchised by having their votes thrown out of the March 2016 primary.

Riggs said the evidence of disenfranchisement in that primary is a good indicator of how the voter ID law will be implemented again. She presented evidence that the law bears more heavily on one group than another, that the legislative process and history shows ill intent, that lawmakers made decisions relying on data that condemned the previous law and that the legislative process was a departure from the norm.

Even with a reasonable impediment provision in the previous voter ID law — legislators’ “fail safe” — 184 votes cast with that declaration were thrown out, according to information from the State Board of Elections. The majority of those affected were Black voters.

“The reasonable impediment provision does almost nothing to save a law that severely burdens the right to vote,” said Riggs.

An attorney for the legislative defendants, David Thompson, said the legislation passed was modeled on a successful similar measure in South Carolina and that it permits every person who has the right to vote to do so.

He criticized the plaintiffs and said they could not find a single person who wouldn’t be able to vote under the new law. He said the measure was one of the most lenient voter ID laws in the country.

Thompson rebuked the statistics Riggs presented and asked why an African-American Democratic lawmaker would support the bill if it was racially discriminatory. He was referring to Joel Ford, a Senator at the time who is no longer in office.

“The bottom line is that there’s a presumption of good faith,” he said. “Speculation does not give them standing.”

Paul Cox, who represents the state and the State Board of Elections, agreed that the voter ID law was not overly burdensome and asked the three-judge panel not to issue an injunction. If they did though, he asked that internal preparation still be allowed to go on in the event the law was eventually upheld.

The three-judge panel is Judge Nathaniel Poovey, of Catawba, Burke and Caldwell counties, Judge Michael O’Foghludha, of Durham and Judge Vince Rozier, of Wake County. Poovey said they hope to have a decision in the case within a week or two.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocks Census citizenship question based on ‘contrived’ rationale

The Trump Administration’s rationale for creating a citizenship question for the 2020 Census questionnaire “seems to have been contrived,” so the U.S. Supreme Court effectively blocked it by sending its case back to the agency to try explaining it again.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the surprise ruling. He didn’t object to the citizenship question itself, but rather took issue with the justification for the question.

“Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary [of Commerce Wilbur Ross] gave for his decision,” he wrote. “In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency).”

It wasn’t clear how the high court would come down on the issue, since newly discovered documents from the late renowned GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller cast doubt on the Trump Administration’s justification for including a citizenship question in its national head count.

The conservative majority on the high court seemed poised to uphold the legality of the citizenship question, but the evidence from Hofeller – found in documents turned over by his daughter after his death – contradicted testimony from the Trump Administration and caused a flurry of lower court filings and rulings.

None of the new evidence appeared to have played a role in Thursday’s opinion.

Attorneys for the Trump Administration told justices it wanted the citizenship question included in the 2020 Census to help enforce federal voting rights laws.

“This rationale is difficult to accept,” Robert’s wrote of the voting rights explanation. “One obvious problem is that the DOJ provided no basis to believe that more precise data would in fact help with Voting Rights Act enforcement.”

Challengers argued the question would lead to Hispanic and immigrant households refusing to fill out the Census, which would create inaccurate data. Inaccurate data in communities could mean a loss of federal funds, resources and fair political representation.

The census occurs every 10 years and provides a count of all individuals living in the U.S. The last census in 2010 asked 10 questions about characteristics such as age, sex and homeownership status. There hasn’t been a broad citizenship question since at least 1950.

North Carolina receives more than $16 billion annually in federal funding from census-guided programs, including school lunches, Medicaid and Section 8 housing.

This is a breaking news story and an updated version will be posted at ncpolicywatch.com.