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Editorial pages and good government advocates are weighing in this morning in praise of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative maps back to the state Supreme Court for further review. This morning’s Fayetteville Observer calls the decision a “setback” for gerrymandering and concludes this way:

“We don’t know how this will be settled, but it reminds us that the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission is the real solution that we need.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s News & Observer terms the ruling a “voter victory.” It also notes that:

“Redrawing legislative and congressional districts is a task that ruling parties take on after a census. It’s true, as Republicans have claimed, that Democrats drew districts to their advantage when they were in power, but they did not go to the extremes the GOP did.

Think of how much time and trouble and money the state could save if it established a bipartisan commission to draw districts every 10 years. But don’t expect that to happen while Republicans continue to enjoy being in power after 100 years out of it.”

And for more details on how a nonpartisan solution is within easy reach of the General Assembly, turn over to the right side of the N&O editorial section and read this op-ed by Common Cause board member and retired N.C. State professor Larry King in which he explains how GOP lawmakers like Representatives David Lewis and Bert Jones have done one of the all-time flip flops on the issue. As King explains:

“Republican Party leaders need to let the democratic process play out. This is legislation they have long championed. North Carolina Republicans remember all too well how frustrating it was when their voices weren’t heard because of gerrymandered districts. Redistricting reform ensures this never happens again. It’s time to end gerrymandering once and for all in North Carolina, and it starts with letting H92 be heard in committee.

The residents of North Carolina deserve no less.”

News

The U.S. Supreme Court sent the North Carolina redistricting case back to the state Supreme Court this morning for further review in light of the high court’s recent decision in a similar Alabama case.

The North Carolina groups and individuals who initially sued lawmakers in state court — contending that the state’s 2011 plan constituted an unlawful racial gerrymander — filed papers in January asking the justices to review the state Supreme Court’s 2014 decision upholding the plan.

Then in late March, the nation’s highest court decided the Alabama case — applying a different analysis than that used by our state justices and sending that state’s plan back to the trial court for further review. (For more on the relationship between the Alabama and the North Carolina cases read here.)

The Court ruled that race predominated in an Alabama redistricting plan which moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining, and that such race-based redistricting must be strictly scrutinized.

Five days later, the court likewise sent a case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, Cantor v. Personhuballah, back down for further review.

The challengers of the North Carolina plan — relying in part upon the analysis in the Alabama decision — argued in papers recently filed with the Supreme Court that our state maps should also be strictly scrutinized and rejected as race-based gerrymanders.

With today’s order, the state Supreme Court will now have to review the 2011 redistricting plan using those parameters.

Here’s the order:

Dickson GVR

 

News

SCOTUS redistricting mapsOn tomorrow’s calendar of petitions for review by the U.S. Supreme Court is Dickson v. Rucho, the challenge to the state’s 2010 redistricting plan.

The groups and individuals who initially sued lawmakers in state court — contending that the plan constituted an unlawful racial gerrymander — filed papers in January asking the justices to review the state Supreme Court’s 2014 decision upholding the plan.

Since then, the nation’s highest court decided a similar case out of Alabama — applying a different analysis than that used by our state justices and sending that state’s plan back to the trial court for further review. (For more on the relationship between the Alabama and the North Carolina cases read here.)

The Court ruled that race predominated in an Alabama redistricting plan which moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining, and that such race-based redistricting must be strictly scrutinized.

Five days later, the court likewise sent a case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, Cantor v. Personhuballah, back down for further review.

The challengers of the North Carolina plan — relying in part upon the analysis in the Alabama decision — contend that our state maps should also be strictly scrutinized and rejected as race-based gerrymanders.

Citing the Alabama opinion, they argue:

Certiorari must be granted in this case to end the use of irregularly shaped race-based election districts in North Carolina because “[r]acial gerrymandering strikes at the heart of our democratic process, undermining the electorate’s confidence in its government as representative of a cohesive body politic in which all citizens are equal before the law.”

They also point out that state lawmakers’ use of “mechanical racial targets” led to the drawing of districts that were “even more bizarrely shaped” than those examined by the justices in the Alabama case — as illustrated in the image above. (The enacted district as opposed to alternatives is in the bottom right corner.)

Commentary

redistricting_mapMicah Khater, a previous contributor to N.C. Policy Watch and a Caldwell Fellow in the University Honors Program at N.C. State University majoring in History and French, recently authored the following interesting essay on the efforts of state lawmakers to impose new electoral maps in Wake and Guilford Counties:

Echoes of North Carolina’s dark past
By Micah Khater

Our politicians often try to resurrect images of the past in order to justify present decisions. For many, history can have a political purpose: it can be used to uphold conservative ideals of American tradition while omitting the imperfections of our past. But this version of history is fraught with errors and grossly oversimplified. If we submit to the desires of those who wish to erase the flaws of our history, we will lose the hindsight necessary to fully evaluate present public policy.

As I was listening to the recent controversy over the General Assembly’s proposal to redistrict the Wake County Commission and Greensboro City Council, I found myself reflecting on a story that sounded eerily similar.

It was 1934. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the midst of enacting major legislation as a part of his New Deal. White Democrats maintained a choke-hold on the South. It’s important to remember that “Democrats” and “Republicans” of the early Twentieth Century were not what they are today. Although FDR was a Democrat, and often strived to appeal to southern lawmakers, his New Deal legislation threatened the racial and economic hierarchy enforced by the Democratic Party of the South. Anxieties ran high among North Carolina Democrats who worried that the New Deal might accelerate labor movements. Even though they singlehandedly controlled all state-level politics, the Democrats worried about a few renegade counties in the western part of North Carolina.

Wilkes County was one of those Republican strongholds. There were only a handful of counties in the western part of the state, like Wilkes, that had not yet disenfranchised African American voters, most likely because of their historic support for the GOP in a Democratic-majority state. Read More

Commentary
Gerrymandering

Image: Southern Coalition for Social Justice

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court took actually issued a promising 5-4 ruling yesterday in the challenge to Alabama’s racially gerrymandered redistricting plan.

Moreover, as the good folks at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice explain in the statement below, the decision could have a significant and positive impact in the challenge to the unconstitutional “Rucho plan” now in effect in North Carolina:

“U.S. SUPREME COURT’S DECISION IN ALABAMA REDISTRICTING CASE HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR NORTH CAROLINA’S REDISTRICTING PLANS

In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.

The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Read More