Last month in this column I discussed the role that gerrymandering plays in creating North Carolina’s political landscape and how court-ordered redistricting could change that. The General Assembly just completed a Special Session to draw new maps for 2018, and I’d like to provide an update on where things stand.
First, please allow a little review for those who may not have read last month’s column. Every decade our country conducts a census to count our population. Once the new numbers are finalized, the NC General Assembly changes the district lines for the NC House, NC State Senate, and Congress so that the districts are equal in population. This is redistricting and we last did it in 2011.
The 2011 NC House and NC Senate maps were drawn by a newly-elected GOP majority. Their maps gave them a super-majority that still exists today. Opponents of the maps went to state court arguing the maps were illegal. The NC Supreme Court upheld the maps, but soon after a United States Supreme Court decision held that Alabama maps (similar to ours) were illegal racial gerrymanders. Another lawsuit was filed and a three judge federal panel ruled the NC House and NC Senate maps were unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court agreed in a unanimous decision.
So the maps we used in the 2016 are gone, never to be used again. We are now in the process of coming up with new maps. In roughly one-third of North Carolina, the districts will not change because these districts were not found unconstitutional and they are not close to districts that were found unconstitutional. The rest of the state gets new districts.
In August, the General Assembly approved new maps for the NC House and NC Senate. I believe these new maps are just as illegal and unfair as the old maps. Here is a little context. Attorney General Josh Stein won North Carolina in the last election. Yet if you look at how many of the 120 NC House districts he won under the new maps, he won only 42 seats or 35% of the NC House. So a candidate who wins a majority of the votes ends up in a super-minority of legislative seats.
House Democrats voted against the plan, along with a few Republicans. The new maps will now be reviewed by the federal three judge panel. The judges could: (1) accept the maps; (2) reject the maps and order the General Assembly to try again; and (3) reject the maps and order the use of judicially created maps for the 2018 elections.
While this judicial review is going on, there is an entirely separate, but related, judicial review going on. North Carolina’s 2011 maps were tossed out for being racial gerrymanders. They are also partisan gerrymanders, but no redistricting plan has ever been invalidated for being too partisan. That could change soon as the US Supreme Court takes up Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander in a case this fall.
To add to the confusion, there is still yet another judicial review going on. Remember that the 2011 North Carolina maps were first challenged in state court and upheld by the NC Supreme Court. That case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After its decision in the Alabama case (which jump-started the invalidation of NC’s maps), the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state case back to the NC Supreme Court for reconsideration. It is still pending and a hearing was held just last week before the seven justices of the NC Supreme Court.
Finally, there is the possibility of more lawsuits being filed.
So to recap: federal courts are involved, state courts are involved, several lawsuits are still pending, and more could be coming. The only thing certain is it will all end with the 2020 census when the process starts anew.
Here in Orange County, our Senate district will not change, but our House districts will. We do not yet know how. Under the Republican maps approved by the General Assembly, my district covers Orange and Caswell Counties, rather than Orange and Durham. I also pick up all Hillsborough, and Rep. Insko gets some of the precincts I currently represent in Chapel Hill. But it is too early to say this will be the new district in the 2018 elections. The courts will have their say. When they do, I will report back to you.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50, covering portions of Orange and Durham Counties. He can be contacted at email@example.com.