The Cases – Lawsuits have been filed contesting North Carolina Congressional Districts and North Carolina State Legislative Districts.
The Supreme Court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political. A dispute over Wisconsin's Republican-drawn boundaries for the state legislature offers Democrats hope of cutting into GOP electoral majorities across the United States. Election law experts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put limits on what lawmakers may do to gain a partisan advantage in creating political district maps. Lawyers in North Carolina are watching the case to see what effect it might have on the state's redistricting conflicts.
In the Wisconsin case, a federal court struck down the districts as unconstitutional in November, finding they were drawn to unfairly minimize the influence of Democratic voters. The challengers to the Wisconsin districts say it is an extreme example of redistricting that has led to increasing polarization in American politics because so few districts are genuinely competitive between the parties. In these safe seats, incumbents tend to be more concerned about primary challengers, so they try to appeal mostly to their party's base.
Similar lawsuits are pending in Maryland, where Democrats dominate, and North Carolina, where Republicans have a huge edge in the congressional delegation and the state legislature.
North Carolina has three cases pending in federal court challenging the breadth to which lawmakers can draw districts for partisan gain. All three are focused on the state's 13 congressional districts where Republicans hold 10 of 13 seats. That advantage has held for the past six years since the Republican-led legislature redrew maps in 2011. In 2010, Democrats held an eight-to-five advantage in the North Carolina congressional delegation.
Two of the districts approved by lawmakers in 2011 -- the 1st in the northeastern part of the state and the 12th, which stretched through the Piedmont -- were found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The lawmakers packed too many African-American voters into the districts, weakening their overall influence in congressional elections, a panel of federal judges ruled in 2016, and new districts were drawn.
In the drawing of the 2016 congressional districts, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who has been chairman of the redistricting committee, made a statement that has been used in lawsuits related to partisan gerrymandering claims. While redrawing the congressional districts this past winter to satisfy a federal court order, Republican state lawmakers emphasized that the new lines were meant to keep Republicans in control of 10 seats in North Carolina's delegation, leaving three seats for Democrats. In 2016, Lewis said at a meeting that he wanted the maps drawn "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."
For more information visit https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/state-redistricting-litigation-january-2017-edition.
NC State Legislative Districts Update (From Rep. Jeff Jackson)
Here are some questions about the upcoming redistricting in North Carolina with answers:
1. Are we getting new State Legislative districts?
Yes. A federal court ruled that 28 of our state legislative districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, so they have to be redrawn. Because of the ripple effects of redrawing districts, that means that most - but not all - of our state's 170 legislative districts (50 Senate; 120 House) will also be redrawn. Parts of eastern and western NC will likely be untouched, but every major city, with the possible exception of Asheville, should see major redrawing.
2. When will we get the new districts?
The court is deciding that right now. At the latest, we should see the new maps within the next few months. But I'd bet 100 million bucks that the GOP has already drawn the new maps in private. They'll still hold public hearings for the redistricting process, but it will just be to give the appearance of listening to the public. Dog + Pony = Show.
3. Will there be a special election in 2017?
The court is also deciding this right now, but it looks unlikely.
4. Who gets to draw the new districts?
The same folks who drew the last ones - that is, the Republican leaders in the state legislature. However, they have to submit their maps to the court before they're final to ensure compliance with the ruling. That's the best part about this.
5. Can't we get an independent group to draw the new districts?
I have filed that bill three times. Republican leadership won't allow it to even be heard in committee, let alone come to a vote, let alone pass it. And the court didn't order it. If we want independent redistricting (which we do, overwhelmingly, as a state), we have to narrow the gap between the number of seats held by Republicans and Democrats to give both sides an incentive to finally come together and bury the weapon of gerrymandering via constitutional amendment. That means the solution to this ultimately runs through organizing to win some legislative elections.
6. Can't we just use computers or county lines or something?
We can't just use county lines because we all have to represent the same number of people (for the Senate, it's roughly 200,000). Inevitably, that means splitting some counties. And turning the process over to an algorithm would essentially be a form of independent redistricting, to which the current majority leadership is dead-set against. There are interesting debates about the extent to which an algorithm would ultimately require human inputs (and thus not be independent), but we don't even reach that debate until the current leadership loses its ability or desire to oppose independent redistricting, and that doesn't happen unless the minority party picks up several seats in the next election.
7. Why is this good for the state?
Because it's probably going to end the artificial, gerrymander-induced supermajorities that currently exist in each chamber, which will let the minority party sustain the Governor's veto. When the Governor has sustainable vetoes, it will shift the entire political landscape closer to the center and away from the far-right that currently runs the whole show. And that's a big win for the whole state.