WASHINGTON, D.C. – In January 2018 a three-judge panel struck down congressional district maps in North Carolina as unconstitutional gerrymanders that unfairly benefited Republicans. Those challenging the law, a group called Common Cause, wants the old maps thrown out and new maps to be drawn by an ‘independent body,’ whatever that looks like.
While the Rucho vs Common Cause case (Bob Rucho was a state senator that lead the map drawing process called into question) was appealed to the Supreme Court, they elected to remand it to the lower court for reconsideration, and, predictably, they reaffirmed their ruling.
But earlier this month the Supreme Court, now with new ninth member Justice Brett Kavanaugh, agreed to hear the the case in conjunction with another gerrymandering case out of Maryland. Friday, the SCOTUS published for oral arguments.
While oral arguments will be heard on March 26, a ruling on the matter won’t come for months. Even then, said ruling may not be binding for the upcoming 2020 elections.
Additionally, the whole process could be moot as the upcoming 2020 census would require drawing new maps to reflect population changes in each of North Carolina’s 13 districts. With the population growth of the Old North State over the last decade, it could even add a 14th District with one more representative in congress.
The challenges to the congressional map essentially argue that legislative redistricting that disproportionately favors the political party controlling the redistricting process violates the Constitution. Such partisan gerrymandering has never been conclusively weighed by the high court, and some argue that it is not the court’s place to seize redistricting power, itself an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers.
Though it is ironic that it goes back to the Supreme Court since the issue appears to be created by them in the first place.
In North Carolina, specifically, the court found that the mere fact that Republicans dominated 10 of 13 congressional districts was a violation of North Carolina Democrats constitutional rights. Essentially, then, they (perhaps unintentionally) argue for a system of proportional representation, a system incompatible with our current electoral system often described as ‘First past the post,” in which the majority winner carries the district.
Democrats in the Old North State often parrot the idea that because Democrats received just over 50 percent of the raw votes statewide, they should make up at least half of the congressional seats. Anything less, in their eyes, is unfair gerrymandering.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court on this measure, tossing out ‘partisan gerrymandering,’ it would move toward an electoral system in which high-population centers like Charlotte or Durham would have major effects on the representation of those, say, in Eastern North Carolina. Do you think residents of the mostly conservative Crystal Coast would be happy with progressive liberals from Durham having such a determining factor in their congressional representation? Hardly.
Such a major change to the way electoral politics works in North Carolina, or any other state, is not the domain of the judiciary. Hopefully the justices on the bench of the Supreme Court see that when they hear oral arguments in March.