Commentary

Today’s redistricting “must reads”

If you’re like most people, you could probably spend your whole day trying to get a handle on the morass that is North Carolina’s six-year-old redistricting mess, but in the interest of time, here is one news story and one brief commentary that tells you most of what you need to know:

Number One is Sharon McCloskey’s front page story from the main NC Policy Watch site, “The redistricting roadmap.” In it, Sharon explains the three pending redistricting court challenges that could all be on their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here’s an excerpt:

The state court challenge to the 2011 legislative and congressional voting maps, Dickson v. Rucho, is already headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, after justices here upheld the redistricting plan for a second time this past December and later denied the challengers’ request for reconsideration.

The federal challenge to congressional districts (specifically districts 1 and 12), Harris v. McCrory, continues following the three-judge panel’s ruling in early February that the districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. While the General Assembly then redrew the congressional map to meet the court’s February 18 deadline, the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the panel’s ruling pending appeal and in advance of the then-scheduled March 15 primaries. The high court denied that request for a stay, and lawmakers have reset congressional primaries for June 7.

The question now before the three-judge panel is whether the new congressional map passes constitutional muster. Legislative leaders directed that new map to be drawn without any consideration of race — an instruction that plan challengers and some legal experts say renders the new voting districts suspect. Those challengers have asked the federal judges to expedite their review of the second map and, if necessary, adopt a new plan of the court’s own making.

And coming up right behind the congressional case is the federal challenge to 25 state legislative districts (nine House and 16 Senate), Covington v. North Carolina – set for a week-long trial before a different three-judge panel beginning April 11. That panel refused in November to stay the March primaries pending consideration of the case, saying only that to do so at that late date would disrupt the election cycle.

Number Two is this excellent and insightful letter to the editor that appeared in last Saturday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by retired N.C. State Professor and current Common Cause NC board member, Larry King, that highlights the absurdity of our situation as well as the ever-more-obvious solution:

Regarding the Feb. 19 news article “Congressional primaries could be reset to June 7”: North Carolina just trounced Iowa in the Gerrymander Super Bowl, 18-0! Read more

News

SCOTUS refuses to stay order requiring new congressional districts

2016 congressional map

Just hours after state lawmakers had approved new congressional voting districts yesterday, as required after a three-judge federal panel found the 2011 maps to be unconstitutional radical gerrymanders, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step into the lawsuit challenging those districts and refused to block enforcement of the panel’s order.

The state’s application to the high court went initially to Chief Justice John Roberts, who then referred it to the full court. Although their ruling comes after the General Assembly had already redrew the congressional districts and thus was to some degree not necessary, the ruling does signal that a majority on the high court believed the 2011 districts to be constitutionally deficient — as there was no indication that the justices were otherwise split 4-4.

According to some, the new map may also be deficient. The federal panel found that state lawmakers used race as the controlling factor when drawing the 2011 maps. Democrats in the General Assembly have been highly critical of the new voting districts, which the Republican majority created without any consideration of race at all. That too is likely a violation of the Voting Rights Act, they say.

Election law expert Rick Hasen agrees, writing that the three-judge panel may reject the new plan as well on that basis.

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Commentary

Right-wing website questions whether congressional map machinations are designed to help Phil Berger, Jr.

Berger_Jr.-and-Sr.There are many reasons to take the often-venomous claims made on the right-wing website known as the Daily Haymaker with a large grain of salt. That said, the person behind it — a fellow named Brant Clifton — clearly has connections inside the House and Senate Republican caucuses at the General Assembly and is more than happy to use the site to blast GOP powers that be.

This morning, Clifton published a story in which he offers a plausible explanation for some of the puzzling details of the new congressional map emerging on Jones Street. When Clifton connects the dots, he concludes that the new 6th district is tailor-made for Phil Berger, Jr.

Not only has the map been drawn in such a way that the current 6th District Representative, Mark Walker (the guy who beat Berger in a bitter 2014 primary), can now run in the redrawn 13th, but the honorables are also advancing a new law that makes clear that one can run in the June congressional primary even if one has already secured a nomination for another office in the March primary. This would benefit Berger, Jr. who is running for the Court of Appeals in March.

This is the conclusion to the post:

“If all of those chips fall into place, and Berger files for the 6th in a June primary, he has a fallback. Junior is challenging Judge Linda Stephens for her seat on the Court of Appeals.  Under this new rule, he could still file for the 6th congressional district while remaining a candidate for the Court of Appeals.  If he wins the congressional primary in June, he has to choose whether he wants to go forward to November as a congressional candidate or judicial candidate.

IF this chaos was initiated for the purpose of obtaining gainful employment for Phil Berger, Jr., it’s an outrage.  (Of course, according to the legislation, this all goes out the window if the Supreme Court should overturn or stay the lower court’s ruling on our current districts.)  

Let’s see if Junior steps up to file for Congress. (Or if any ”honorables” from Jones Street do the same.) 

Once again, it shows that no matter which party you put in charge — the main focus is self-promotion and self-preservation at the expense of the rest of us.”

We (and, no doubt, a lot of other folks) will be  watching closely. You can read Clifton’s entire post by clicking here.

Commentary

Expert: New map is just the latest byproduct of NC’s “disastrous and disorganized” system

If you want to understand how absurd North Carolina’s gerrymandering debacle has gotten check out a pair of news articles.

As Think Progress reported here, House redistricting boss David Lewis publicly admitted that the new maps are a political gerrymander:

“Our intent is to use the political data we have to our partisan advantage,” Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting on Tuesday. “I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander which is not against the law.”

Meanwhile, as WRAL.com reported here, nonpartisan experts are dismissing the new maps as absurd:

Mark Nance, an assistant professor in North Carolina State University’s School of Public and International Affairs, said North Carolina perpetually ranks first or second worst in the nation for gerrymandering.

“This is the result of a fairly disastrous and disorganized system of redistricting that’s been in place for way too many years here in North Carolina,” Nance said Wednesday.

How’s that for a “quick fix” after our congressional maps were struck down and declared constitutional? An admitted political gerrymander that’s dismissed by an expert as “disastrous and disorganized.”

All in all, it sounds like another week of business as usual in North Carolina’s right-wing General Assembly.

Commentary

Now, General Assembly leaders are just messing with us

Senator Bob Rucho

Senator Bob Rucho, leader of Senate redistricting efforts

There’s something that’s just irresistible to some politicians about playing the role of bully. Maybe there’s some Freudian explanation traceable to schoolyard abuses of years gone by, but whatever the psychological explanations, it’s clear that North Carolina Republican lawmakers are just messing with us now because they can.

Having manufactured a crisis by drawing racially gerrymandered electoral maps and then moving up the May primary for no good reason to March, the GOP lawmakers are now responding to a court order to halt their unconstitutional actions by playing games. As WRAL.com reported last night:

“After federal judges ruled that two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional because the race of voters was the primary factor used to create them, lawmakers decided Tuesday not to consider race at all when drawing new maps.

The new maps also will be drawn to maintain the Republican Party’s 10-3 advantage in the U.S. House, the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting decided.”

But, of course, as Democratic critics noted at yesterday’s hearing, such an action is just as violative of federal law as using race in a discriminatory way. What’s more, the GOP lawmakers know this. As Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue reminded them yesterday:

“There are places in this state where the Voting Rights Act requires that race be considered to some degree. It’s transparent, the game you’re trying to play. It’s showing disrespect.”

Blue is absolutely right. What’s happening now is that Republican lawmakers, having been called out on their actions, are responding like petulant and oversized 14 year olds. Instead of taking immediate action to own up to their actions, delay the primary and craft responsible districts, they’re throwing a tantrum and pushing around still more kids on the playground, all while hoping that their favorite uncle (Supreme Court Justice John Roberts) will somehow bail them out.

One big problem with this strategy, however, is that Roberts may not have the juice to do so in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death this past weekend. With the Supremes now divided 4-4 on ideological lines, North Carolina Republicans may find themselves having to heed lower court orders to get their act together.

Like the schoolyard bully who now suddenly finds his rich parent or uncle unable to move an honest school principal, North Carolina Republican lawmakers may finally be about to get their comeuppance. Sadly, however, if this is the case, it looks like they’ll have to be dragged to the principal’s office kicking, screaming and unrepentant.