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Supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court is hearing argument today in a redistricting dispute out of Arizona that could bear directly on North Carolina voters.

In the case, aptly captioned Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commissionthe state legislature sued an independent redistricting commission approved by voters in 2000 to draw state and congressional voting lines.

The lawmakers contend that the delegation of that responsibility from them to the commission violates the Election Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has more on the legal arguments in the case here, but of more import to North Carolina voters is the impact the court’s decision may have on developing efforts to reform the redistricting process here.

Two bills are now pending in the General Assembly that would change the overtly partisan nature of drawing voting lines in North Carolina.

House Bill 92, sponsored by Rep. “Skip” Stam and others, calls for a more bipartisan approach to map-drawing but keeps ultimate approval authority with lawmakers.

House Bill 49 on the other hand — sponsored by Rep. Charles Jeter and others —  delegates the map-drawing to an independent commission, which then presents three plans from which lawmakers can choose. If they don’t agree on a plan within a set period of time, the commission itself picks the redistricting plan that becomes state law.

The latter bill, which would require a constitutional amendment, is more like the Arizona law before the nation’s highest court, except that it still rests ultimate approval with the lawmakers — absent their failure to act.

But even that degree of delegation may be at risk, depending on how the Supreme Court rules.

As the Brennan Center for Justice points out here:

If the Supreme Court were to conclude that the Elections Clause prohibits citizen efforts to take the power to redistrict away from elected politicians, the decision could have far-reaching ramifications. A growing number of states in recent years, including California, have given independent commissions the power to set the boundaries of their congressional districts. In fact, almost half of the states now use redistricting commissions in some form, including as a backup if the legislature is unable to pass a redistricting plan. Efforts to adopt similar sorts of reforms are currently underway in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin – with Arizona and California frequently serving as models for proposed reforms.

 

Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

In case you missed it over the weekend, Charlotte Observer editorial page editor had a scathing and excellent essay taking Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to task for his downright embarrassing hypocrisy on the issue of redistricting reform.

As Batten points out, Berger was sponsored at least five reform bills over a period of eight years that would have done almost exactly what the proposal he is now standing in the way of in 2015 would do:

“Has there ever been a more glaring example of how where you stand depends on where you sit?

Berger, R-Rockingham, sat toward the back when he was in the minority throughout the last decade. Today he sits up front as the Senate President Pro Tem. Surrounded by fellow Republicans everywhere he looks, he has a grip on power like Vladimir Putin – and a similar fondness for true democracy.

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe the proposals announced last week to take much of the politics out of drawing congressional and legislative districts differ dramatically from the ones Berger co-sponsored. Let’s check.

Oh, no, actually they are nearly identical. In fact, entire passages from the bill filed last week are taken verbatim from bills Berger co-sponsored.”

As Batten also rightfully notes, Democratic leaders like Marc Basnight and Jim Black were at fault in those days for blocking reform — even though other Democrats were pushing for it. But that doesn’t absolve Berger now. At least Basnight and Black never pretended to be for it or led voters to believe they would implement it once in office as Berger clearly did.

As with so many other conservative switcheroos in recent years — on transparency in government, on a commitment to open debate in the General Assembly, on the need for “revenue neutral” tax reform — Berger’s flip flop smacks of raw opportunism and power hunger at their worst.

About all one can say going forward is that at least North Carolinians will have no illusions about where things really stand.

News
(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.

Commentary

redistricting_mapIn case you missed it yesterday, take a couple of minutes this morning to read Ned Barnett’s fine essay in the Sunday edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he: a) skewers the lame claims of state redistricting bosses Robert Rucho and David Lewis that the N&O is motivated by partisan goals in editorializing (for the umpteenth time) in favor of redistricting reform and, more importantly, b) explains exactly what’s really going on right now in the redistricting battles (and why Rucho, Lewis and their pals would be smart to abandon their heavy handed manipulations). As Barnett writes:

“The Republican approach to redistricting has been embarrassingly successful. The GOP overwhelmingly controls the state legislature and holds 10 of 13 congressional seats in a state where Democrats are the predominant party. But in this success may lie the seeds of the party’s eventual loss of power. Read More

Commentary

ICYMI, the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer features another great op-ed this morning that was co-authored by former Raleigh mayor, Charles Meeker (a Democrat) and former Charlotte mayor, Richard Vinroot (a Republican). The subject: the urgent need for redistricting reform.

As their honors note:

As former mayors of North Carolina’s two largest cities, we know how important it is to have a government that fairly represents the people, and in which voters have confidence. And we believe that the way we have drawn maps in North Carolina for the past five decades or longer has undermined citizens’ confidence in our government, created highly partisan legislative districts and caused gridlock.

We also believe that North Carolinians have had enough. For that reason, we, and other North Carolinians who care about the value of our vote and the future of our state, are supporting a transparent, impartial and fair process for redistricting. We urge you to join us.

The model we support is based on the way Iowa has drawn its maps since 1980. Their maps are required to have districts that are compact, contiguous and follow state and federal law. They cannot be drawn based on the political makeup of districts, past voter turnout or other partisan factors. Instead, the maps are drawn by professionals, reviewed by citizens and then approved or disapproved by the legislature in a timely fashion.

We respectfully urge the newly elected members of the N.C. General assembly – many of whom have expressed support for our proposal in their public statements – to work with us by passing impartial, fair, nonpartisan redistricting reform in 2015. In our view, there is no better way to show respect for our voters and improve our democracy!

To which all a caring and thinking person can say is “hear, hear!” and “if only a majority of our current General Assembly was comprised of caring and thinking politicians.”

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed.