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Gerrymandering Victory For Voting Rights Activists in North Carolina

A rally to end gerrymandering outside the Supreme Court on 3/26/19, as the Justices hear a Maryland and North Carolina case on gerrymandering.
A rally to end gerrymandering outside the Supreme Court on 3/26/19, as the Justices heard a Maryland and North Carolina case on gerrymandering. (Photo: Victoria Pickering)

“Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. This win is proof that change is always within our reach, on gerrymandering, voting rights, and much more.”

A North Carolina court ruled the state’s legislative districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered and must be redrawn immediately before the 2020 election.

“This is a historic victory for the people of North Carolina,” said Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause in North Carolina. “Thanks to the court’s landmark decision, politicians in Raleigh will no longer be able to rig our elections through partisan gerrymandering.”

The Republican North Carolina state Senate leader Phil Berger said that his party would not appeal the decision.

“We disagree with the court’s ruling as it contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent. But we intend to respect the court’s decision and finally put this divisive battle behind us,” Berger said in a statement. “Nearly a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on.”

After the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June, which held that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” critics feared heavily skewed state maps would remain in place for the 2020 election. Experts, such as law professor Richard H. Pildes, believe other state courts might now “feel strengthened in the view that state courts can and should take on this issue.” Pildes told the Washington Post that opponents of gerrymandering “now have a 300-plus page road map for how to do it,” referring to the state court’s 357-page decision.

The decision reasoned that electoral contests in the state had been “significantly tainted in that they unconstitutionally deprive every citizen of the right to elections for members of the General Assembly conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the People.”

When leading North Carolina’s redistricting initiative in 2016, Republican Rep. David Lewis said: “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

That year, NC Republicans won 10 of 13 House seats, even though Democrats won 47 percent of the state vote. After the 2018 election Democrats received only 42 percent of Senate seats, despite receiving 50 percent of the votes for the NC Senate. “And while they received 50.5 percent of the votes for the N.C. House, they received only 45 percent of seats,” noted The Daily Tar Heel.

The Charlotte Observer reported the extent of racial gerrymandering in NC last week, including splitting many black voters in Wilmington from predominantly white neighborhoods:

“Today, all of Wilmington and the rest of New Hanover County are in a single state Senate district, except for a heavily African-American area just south of downtown. Those homes were carved out and placed into a different district, which is mostly made up of suburbs, beach towns and rural farming communities in Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender counties.”

Former President Barack Obama, who launched an initiative last month to fight partisan gerrymandering, celebrated the ruling:

“Yesterday’s ruling is a big win for North Carolina—and for all of us,” tweeted Obama. “Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. This win is proof that change is always within our reach, on gerrymandering, voting rights, and much more.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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