Commentary, Courts & the Law, News

With the Supreme Court ruling small, N.C. leaders must think big on gerrymandering

“I don’t agree with gerrymandering either,” Republican gerrymandering czar David Lewis uttered, moments after last week’s diminutive ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court — which we’ll refer to, punitively, as the lowercase supreme court for the remainder of this post.

We are out of time and we are out of patience for Lewis’ plaintive protestations. It’s not much of a mystery that Lewis and his cohorts atop the legislative food chain would gleefully take advantage of the court’s meandering sense of judicial power and decency.

But don’t expect the people of North Carolina to hold much respect for those who, recognizing the law offers no protection against such abuses of power, legislate themselves into a democracy-proof majority.

All this to say that the supreme court — which, in this ruling, comported itself like a lost and frightened child in the woods — was not our last hope in North Carolina.

All eyes turn now to a state court challenge of our gerrymandered districts, in which opposing parties are battling over the fate of a smorgasbord of computer files once held by the GOP’s late mapmaker, Thomas Hofeller. Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton is covering this as we speak, and you’d do yourself a favor by following her live coverage on Twitter. 

It’s possible this case has a more optimistic outlook in state courts, which may provide some incentives to North Carolina legislators like Lewis to go along with a spate of reform bills — creating citizen commissions and constitutional amendments — in the batter’s box.

Republicans and Democrats — lawmakers like Robert Reives, John Hardister, Erica Smith, Chuck McGrady, Jeff Jackson, Sarah Stevens, Terry Van Duyn, Marcia Morey and Harry Warren, to name a few — deserve to be applauded for recognizing that this path will require bipartisan legislators willing to take the first step.

To that end, WRAL has a must-read roundup of the legislative efforts to address our partisan woes. Happy reforming…

Read more below:

The U.S. Supreme Court may have been unequivocal last week about the federal courts no longer playing a role in partisan gerrymandering cases.

But Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion also put a major emphasis on the responsibility of states to curb their own power to draw highly partisan district lines.

In the North Carolina General Assembly, there are no fewer than seven attempts to do just that – depending on how you count.

The competing measures feature a range of tactics aimed at reducing the influence of politics in the construction of voting district maps. Introduced by Republican and Democrats in both chambers, all of them seek to limit the role of partisan data in map-making and remove – at least to some extent – legislators from the process.

Some call for amendments to the North Carolina Constitution. Others seek those goals through changes in state law.

Yet, none has seen much movement since they were introduced in the early months of the 2019 legislative session.

But with the Supreme Court decision now in the books – and the uncertainty of 2020 looming – the reform bills’ time in legislative purgatory may be coming to an end.

“We are open to anything that is an improvement in the process,” Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the House’s lead mapmaker, said during a press conference shortly after the Supreme Court decision.

On that, advocates seem to agree.

“We’ve reached a point where almost any change is better than what we already have,” Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said.

 

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