by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
A North Carolina court recently struck down the state’s highly partisan House and Senate election maps, but according to the latest article by Carolina Journal’s Kari Travis, the court’s ruling may not keep gerrymandering at bay. At least not for long. Travis writes:
Tuesday, Sept. 3, a three-judge Superior Court panel scrapped North Carolina’s election maps. The voting districts were cases of extreme partisan gerrymandering and violated the N.C. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, Free Elections Clause, and Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly Clauses, judges said.
…The legislature must turn over new maps by Sept. 18, the court ruled, and the public must be given full access as the maps are sketched.
The court set out guidelines for drawing the maps:
Under the judgment, lawmakers aren’t allowed to use election results data to “pack and crack” constituents into districts that benefit the majority party. They’re not allowed to use the old maps as a starting point for new districts. They’re not allowed to hire outside help without the court’s permission.
However, the court did not prevent legislators from protecting incumbents. Travis explains:
…Though Republicans can’t use elections data for any of the remedial maps, the criteria still allow them to protect incumbents. That gives Republicans an edge.
The case will not set precedent either. Travis reports:
Since the case isn’t likely to go to the N.C. Supreme Court, rules laid out in Common Cause v. Lewis won’t set precedent for future redistricting litigation. That means partisan gerrymandering is likely to continue — unless the legislature enacts reforms, said former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.
Without a lawsuit on the way to the N.C. Supreme Court, the only way for long-term change to be enacted on redistricting is for the legislature to impose it themselves. Travis writes:
House Bill 140, The FAIR Act, has since February been sitting in the House Redistricting Committee. The bill includes a proposed constitutional amendment to set redistricting rules, and requires legislative staffers — not lawmakers — to draw nonpartisan maps. The rules follow recommendations from the state Supreme Court in the 2002 and 2004 Stephenson v. Bartlett redistricting lawsuits.
Legislators would approve the maps or send them back to staff for revisions.
If H.B. 140 becomes law, its provisions would take effect immediately as a statute. It would become part of the N.C. Constitution in 2020 if voters approved it.
The Senate Redistricting Committee scheduled a meeting for 10:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 9.