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GerrymanderingIn case you missed it, Raleigh’s News & Observer is featuring an essay by one of the nation’s founding fathers today that highlights the sorry state of politics in 21st Century North Carolina.

As Elbridge Gerry — the man for whom gerrymandering was named — informs us:

“A short while ago, I read that most legislative districts in North Carolina were not even competitive, with nearly half of your General Assembly races having just one candidate on the ballot last year – effectively deciding the election before a single vote was cast. Sadly, the prime culprit depriving you of a choice at the ballot box is gerrymandering.

As someone who risked his life to establish American democracy, I must say that this is appalling. We fought our revolution for the right to decide our own fate, for the right to vote for our leaders. Now other Americans, from both political parties, are trying to take it all away.

I was really depressed when I realized this and was feeling more than a bit guilty for my role in pioneering such tactics, but lately I have seen some signs that gerrymandering may be waning.

Twenty-one states have taken the power of redistricting out of the hands of politicians and given it to independent commissions…

And about two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court – one of our better creations when we wrote the Constitution – upheld the right of states to create these independent redistricting commissions. Justice Ginsberg got it right when she said ‘the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government.’

Also good news is that the U.S. Supreme Court told Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina that they needed to take another look at the way they did redistricting in the last round. They ordered Alabama to redo its map drawing and another court told Virginia to redo theirs. North Carolina is still up in the air.”

The bottom line: If even the man for whom gerrymandering was named can endorse a better path forward, surely Senator Phil Berger — the man responsible for the current mess in North Carolina — can do so. Come on Phil, don’t wait 203 years to admit your error.

News
Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled today that congressional districts redrawn by the Republican-controlled legislature violated a voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring nonpartisan map-drawing, and sent the voting maps back for a do-over.

It’s an important decision for Florida voters, who’d made clear their distaste of politicized redistricting by approving the amendment.

North Carolina, of course, has no such prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, and lawmakers in 2011 redrew congressional districts that left the state — which had a House vote that was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican — with a delegation of four Democrats and nine Republicans.

The Florida decision has little bearing on the redistricting process as it stands right now in North Carolina, but  it does offer lawmakers and voters lessons on the transparency that should underlie the process.

The Florida courts in League of Women Voters v. Detzner had the benefit of emails and other communications between lawmakers, staff and consultants which established that lawmakers had acted with improper intent in drawing maps for partisan advantage.

In the redistricting case pending here, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied requests for the disclosure of such communications — sent indirectly to involved parties through attorneys for the lawmakers — citing privilege.

And the Florida courts emphasized the need for transparency at all phases of the redistricting process, with the Supreme Court demanding as much in its order:

First, in order to avoid the problems apparent in this case as a result of many critical decisions on where to draw the lines having been made outside of public view, we encourage the Legislature to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.

Second, the Legislature should provide a mechanism for the challengers and others to submit alternative maps and any testimony regarding those maps for consideration and should allow debate on the merits of the alternative maps. The Legislature should also offer an opportunity for citizens to review and offer feedback regarding any proposed legislative map before the map is finalized.

Third, the Legislature should preserve all e-mails and documents related to the redrawing of the map. In order to avoid additional, protracted discovery and litigation, the Legislature should also provide a copy of those documents to the challengers upon proper request.

Finally, we encourage the Legislature to publicly document the justifications for its chosen configurations. That will assist this Court in fulfilling its own solemn obligation to ensure compliance with the Florida Constitution in this unique context, where the trial court found the Legislature to have violated the constitutional standards during the 2012 redistricting process.

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Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

This week’s Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the constitutionality of allowing independent commissions to draw congressional districts prompted Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill to ask Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger about legislation sponsored by a majority of the House that would create a nonpartisan redistricting process in North Carolina.

Still not a good idea? Berger thought it was a fine idea when he was in the minority in the General Assembly. He co-sponsored redistricting reform five times, most recently in the 2009-2010 session.

The only thing consistent is his hypocrisy.

News

VoteIn a 2-1 decision released this morning, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and held that the Wake County citizens’ lawsuit challenging the redistricting of Board of Education electoral districts could proceed toward trial.

Writing for the court in Wright v. North Carolina,  U.S. Circuit Judge James A Wynn, Jr. said:

Thirteen citizens of Wake County, North Carolina challenge a state law redrawing the Wake County Board of Education electoral districts. Plaintiffs contend that under the new redistricting plan, some citizen’s votes will get significantly more weight than other’s in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of one person, one vote and the North Carolina Constitution’s promise of equal protection. For the reasons explained below, we conclude that Plaintiffs have stated a claim upon which relief could be granted against the Wake County Board of Elections and that the district court therefore erred in dismissing their suit.

We’ll be updating this post shortly, but you can read the decision here.

News

voteThe justices of the U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear yet another election law case, this time from Texas and concerning the “one-person one vote” principle of the 14th Amendment.

That’s the rule requiring that to the extent possible voting districts be drawn with same-sized populations  — so that one person’s voting power is roughly equivalent to another person’s within a state.

Here’s more from Rick Hasen at the Election Law Blog:

In a surprise move, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from a three judge court in Evenwel v. Abbott, a one-person, one vote case involving the counting of non-citizens in the creation of electoral districts. Ed Blum, the force behind the Fisher anti-affirmative action case and the Shelby County case striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act is also behind this case. The question involves whether Texas can draw districts using total population rather than total voters, an issue especially important given non-citizen Latinos living in parts of Texas. The claim is that representatives from these areas with non-citizens get too much moving power. A ruling in favor of the challengers would be a boost for areas with fewer numbers of non-citizens living there.