by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Two leaders of the N.C. General Assembly’s redistricting work explain their recent actions in The Atlantic. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, leads the House’s redistricting committee, while Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, leads his chamber’s corresponding group.
“I propose that we draw the maps 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,” one of us said in 2016, as the North Carolina legislature drew new congressional maps.
It’s a made-for-headlines statement, an apparent gaffe that reveals what everybody knows but nobody says. And on Tuesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the landmark partisan gerrymandering case Rucho v. Common Cause, it will likely take center stage again.
That statement, though, was not a gaffe. It was a hyperbolic but necessary retort to ongoing litigation and the shifting goalposts imposed by a federal court.
You don’t need to agree with the statement, and you don’t need to support partisan considerations in redistricting. That’s not our intent in writing this. But you should understand the full story, because reaching conclusions based on one spoken sentence is rarely justified and never prudent. …
… Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have long held that political considerations are fair game, and maps produced on the basis of those considerations are perfectly legal.
Having just been faulted by a federal court for unnecessarily using racial data, and instructed by that court and others that political considerations are just fine, we set out to make it clear to the world that we relied on traditional criteria, including politics—not race—when redrawing the maps at Gregory’s order. Direct court instruction and the law told us that doing so would end the matter. …
… [I]n 2016, the same Democratic activists filed another lawsuit, this time arguing that considering politics during redistricting is, in fact, unconstitutional. In an odd bit of legal gymnastics, the federal court of jurisdiction agreed with that argument, apparently contradicting its own decision earlier that year.