A state court in North Carolina has signed off on a gerrymander by Republican legislators that overwhelmingly favors the GOP.
“It is time to let the citizens vote,” said Superior Court Judge Paul C. Ridgeway as he read a copy of the decision from the bench.
“The net result is the grievous and flawed 2016 map has been replaced,” Ridgeway added–referencing the previous GOP gerrymander which was rejected by the same court earlier this year.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Ridgeway and two other judges unanimously enjoined the Tarheel State from using the 2016 map because it was “contrary to the fundamental right of North Carolina citizens to have elections conducted freely and honestly.”
The three-judge panel based their late October decision on evidence presented by Democratic Party-affiliated plaintiffs was sourced from the computer records of Thomas Hofeller, a deceased GOP operative and engineer of modern-day gerrymandering.
Hofeller, who is widely known for his doomed “citizenship question” proposal to dilute Democratic Party voting strength via the 2020 Census, also spearheaded North Carolina’s efforts to redraw voting maps at the direction of Republican state legislators.
“Quite notably in this case, the 2016 congressional districts have already been the subject of years-long litigation in federal court arising from challenges to the districts on partisan gerrymandering grounds,” the order reads. “As such, there is a detailed record of both the partisan intent and the intended partisan effects of the 2016 congressional districts drawn with the aid of Dr. Thomas Hofeller and enacted by the General Assembly.”
The court’s October decision continued:
Simply put, the people of our State will lose the opportunity to participate in congressional elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people. The court finds that this specific harm to plaintiffs absent issuance of the injunction outweighs the potential harm to legislative defendants if the injunction is granted.
Mindful of the need for quick action due to the fast approaching 2020 election–and the necessity of candidate filing periods and primaries well before that election–the GOP-majority state legislature was given three separate chances to draw arguably fair maps.
Those efforts were twice struck down as insufficiently non-partisan–that is, too friendly to Republicans–but the superior court gave state GOP legislators the benefit of the clock on the third time around.
In real terms, the map okayed by the court on Monday will likely produce a North Carolina congressional delegation of eight Republicans and five Democrats. That stands in contrast to the previous map which essentially apportioned 10 seats to the GOP and three seats to Democrats.
Stephen Wolf is a staff writer at liberal blog Daily Kos who focuses on voting rights and elections. In a Monday afternoon thread, Wolf ran the numbers on the newly-approved districts and said he found them lacking in terms of overall fairness.
If this map stands, it would lock in an 8-5 Republican advantage even in years such as 2018 when Democrats win more votes statewide. I’ve shown how this map is a gerrymander & how a fairer map could result in a 7-6 R or 7-6 D split: https://t.co/WeDbkMBZLk #NCpol #NCGA https://t.co/VFUOnzGwhq
— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) December 2, 2019
But, Wolf noted, the plaintiffs themselves bear some of the blame for receiving the outcome they didn’t want. In an apparently ill-time attempt to game the process, state lawsuits were filed a year after the 2018 election and months after losing in the federal court system.
Still, for a state where voters are effectively split down the middle in their party preference, the partisan nature of the approved map is likely to invite additional litigation.
GOP state Sen. Jerry Tillman confirmed the categorization of the new map as a gerrymander in mid-November when he defended the party-based nature of the map-drawing process.
“It’s set up to be partisan,” Tillman said. “Do you think we’re going to draw Democrat maps? … We’re doing exactly what you all did for 140 years.”
Tillman’s words are likely to come back to haunt the GOP as the three-judge panel did not explicitly endorse the new map or rule as to its finality in terms of law or justice. Rather, the judges simply lifted the injunction which allowed the map to go into effect for this election due to time-based constraints.
The primary candidate filing period began on Monday.
[image via Sara D. Davis/Getty-Images]