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Thursday, 28 March 2019 13:05

COLUMN: Thoughts on gerrymandering

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Yesterday (Tuesday), the Supreme Court heard cases concerning gerrymandering in North Carolina and Maryland. The results could have wide ranging implications.

I’m not a constitutional lawyer and I try not give legal like so many people on Twitter. I also try to assume that some people with whom I disagree may have legitimate points of view. That said, I tried to follow the arguments before the Supreme Court yesterday and read what people smarter and more knowledgeable than me were saying.

I think the extreme gerrymandering has had a severely adverse effect on our politics. With less competition, there’s less accountability. It’s exacerbated the polarization that’s taking place in the country by making primaries the determining election, leading to candidates moving to either their left or right to appeal to the base voters that show up in the intramural affairs.   

All that said, I don’t believe ending extreme gerrymandering will necessarily give Democrats control of the North Carolina legislature or even an equal number of Congressional districts. I don’t think the constitution believes in proportional representation and the sorting that Republicans point to is real. The people who make up the Democratic base have packed themselves into urban areas. I don’t think districts should be drawn to accommodate those people, either. That’s just another form of gerrymandering. 

Republican mapmaking in North Carolina was an abomination. It showed no self-restraint on the part of the GOP. Despite what David Lewis said in his op-ed, he was bragging about his ability to rig the system when he said he drew 10-3 districts because he couldn’t draw ones that gave Republicans an 11-2 advantage. 

Even in Maryland, Democrats showed at least a little restraint. They resisted eliminating all of the GOP districts even though one map would have done so. Had Republicans in North Carolina left at least a couple of competitive districts, even if they leaned GOP, we might not be having this fight.

Contrary to what the narrative from the left will likely be if the court decides not to overturn the districts, it seemed clear from the questioning that the justices aren’t in favor of extreme gerrymandering. They’re just not convinced that the Supreme Court is the proper vehicle to remedy it. That seems, to me, to be a legitimate concern. 

However, the legislature here has made every effort to thwart efforts to reel in their extremist impulses and has shown no interest in being part of the solution. They’ve pushed more gerrymandering, not less, and their maps make the ones Democrats drew look benign. Their gerrymanders protect their power in the General Assembly and, by ensuring a heavily lopsided Congressional map, help limit any opportunities for Congress to remedy the situation. 

In North Carolina, allowing the state courts to address the problem of gerrymandering might solve the problem now, but the legislature is actively trying to influence the makeup of the courts to remove checks and balances. Given the opportunity, they would rig the court to protect their gerrymanders instead of protecting the will of the people. In states where judges are not elected, legislatures could appoint ones who would do the bidding of the legislature instead of protecting voters. In other words, we don’t have many vehicles left to protect the voters from their elected officials besides the federal courts.

The court is reluctant to get involved in affairs left to the states, but states like North Carolina are locked in a battle to resist the will of the people. Technology has made gerrymandering dangerously precise. I don’t think that’s what the framers had in mind. 

 

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished with permission from PoliticsNC.com.

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 29 March 2019 19:05
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