In February 2016, then N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis held the first public hearing of the newly formed Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting. Earlier that month, a federal court had struck down North Carolina’s congressional map because of racial gerrymandering, and the committee was tasked with redrawing the districts. To that end, the public was invited to submit comments on the process.
You might have been skeptical then that the Republicans who controlled the committee were interested in hearing what members of the public – or even the opposition party – had to say. Now, thanks to a federal ruling on the maps that committee produced, we know just how much of a sham it was.
In its ruling Tuesday striking down our state’s election districts, a panel of three judges slapped hard at the lawmakers who drew them. The judges, appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, said Rucho and Lewis violated the “core principle of republican government” by predetermining that a map should give Republicans victories in 10 of 13 districts. That partisan gerrymandering, and the Republicans who participated in it, disenfranchised millions of voters and violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, the ruling said.
The judges also described, with evidence, just how bad it was.
That February 2016 meeting? It was a cynical formality, according to the judges. Before legislators even gathered to talk about the congressional districts, and before the public was allowed to have its say, the maps were a done deal. That had happened in the 10 days before, when Rucho and Lewis had asked redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller to come up with new districts that would, according to Hofeller’s testimony, “create as many districts as possible in which GOP candidates would be able to successfully compete for office.”
Hofeller did as he was told, constructing maps on his personal computer using data from previous elections. He never heard public comments about the districts he was drawing. He finished on Feb. 16. Later that day, Rucho and Lewis continued the charade by proposing to their committee the criteria governing the drawing of the maps that had already been completed.
Equally galling was that Lewis told his fellow committee members that the goal of the map drawing was to elect 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Why? “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” Lewis said. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”
Such arrogance is hardly surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to Republican leadership in the General Assembly, but it illustrates just how important the federal ruling was Tuesday. The drawing of election districts shouldn’t be put in the hands of lawmakers – Republican or Democrat – who will use that authority to keep themselves in power. Only recently are courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, taking a more critical look at partisan gerrymandering.
We hope and expect that the 4th Circuit judges eventually will appoint a special master to redraw North Carolina’s election districts. We also expect Republicans to fight that fairness to the end, because as yet another court ruling showed, the true voter fraud in North Carolina takes place long before an election is even held.