A bipartisan group of former North Carolina governors filed a court document today asking the three-judge panel in a partisan gerrymandering to root out the destructive practice.
The governors who filed the amicus brief are James B. Hunt Jr., who served from 1977 to 1984 and again from 1993 to 2000; James G. Martin, who served from 1985 to 1992; Michael F. Easley, who served from 2001 to 2008; and Beverly E. Perdue, who served from 2009 to 2012. Martin is a Republican and the others are Democrats.
“Amici served as Governors of North Carolina for 36 straight years,” the document states. “During that time, we experienced highs and lows in the functioning of state government. The highs came when members of different political parties worked together to move our State forward, and when all three branches respected the separation of powers at the core of our constitutional system. The lows came when progress took a back seat to partisanship, and when the legislature sought to expand its own power at the expense of the executive and judicial branches.”
Former Gov. Pat McCrory is noticeably missing from the filing, despite supporting redistricting reform in the past. The Republican served the state from 2013 to 2017.
Post-trial briefs are due tonight by midnight in Common Cause v. Lewis. The two week-long trial ended almost two weeks ago, and it could take weeks or even a month for the three-judge panel to issue a decision in the case.
The plaintiffs asked the court to throw out the 2017 legislative maps that were used in last year’s election and could be used again in 2020. The plan to also ask the court not to allow lawmakers to redraw those maps after violating the public’s trust multiple times.
GOP lawmakers contend that partisan gerrymandering is not illegal and that the maps they produced — as part of a remedial process to correct maps that were racially gerrymandered — were not extreme outliers. They believe that since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in the issue, the state courts should to.
The former North Carolina governors disagree. The brief they filed today says the state courts “should play their essential role here and defend the North Carolina Constitution against partisan gerrymandering. It is particularly critical for our state courts to act in this instance because the other branches cannot or will not stop partisan gerrymandering,”
Democrats controlled the legislature when Martin, a Republican, was in office. Still, he said, they worked together on many important initiatives despite very strong differences on how the state government should operate.
“We found common ground and even led the nation in manufacturing while I was in office,” he said in a news release. “We had bipartisanship when we extended I-40 across the state. We both pushed for improvements in education, even though we had many differences. The current partisan gerrymandering impedes our ability to work together and to uphold good government.”
The three former Democratic governors spoke in the same release about how partisan gerrymandering hurts separation of powers and how advanced redistricting technology “let the legislature run roughshod over the other two branches of government.”
“A separation of powers, as defined by our state constitution, fosters a healthy give-and-take among all three branches,” Hunt said. “Partisan gerrymandering breaks that system, regardless of which party holds the majority. It skews our system of governance by discouraging compromise, increasing divisiveness, dissuading capable citizens from seeking office, and eroding the faith our citizens have in our government.”
Easly echoed those sentiments and said if the legislature won’t fix the problem, then the courts have to. Perdue said it was distressing to see how partisan gerrymandering has unfolded in the state’s history.
“We’re seeing the evidence today of how divisive it is when one party seeks to shut out the voices of the voters,” she said. “It eliminates competitive elections, poisons our politics, and corrupts our system of government.”
Read the full amicus brief below.