Lawmakers, not judges, should tackle partisan gerrymandering

Lawmakers look at maps of congressional districts.
Lawmakers look at maps of congressional districts.

For decades, the majority political party in the North Carolina legislature (whether Democrat or Republican) has attempted to solidify and expand its representation in Congress, as well as in the North Carolina General Assembly, by drawing non-compact, oddly shaped, “gerrymandered” voting districts, using race and political affiliation to create districts that are favorable to the majority party.

With past U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down North Carolina’s voting districts because of racial gerrymandering, and with an impending decision from that Court on the issue of the constitutionality of political party gerrymandering (on which the Court has just heard arguments), North Carolina’s reputation for fairness has suffered, both here at home and abroad.

At some point, clear legislative action must restore fairness to our politics and make our citizens confident that each person’s vote counts equally. Leaders from both political parties must work together to solve this problem in our state. We think the time is now, and that is why we are proud to support legislation for a proposed state constitutional amendment that puts an end to lengthy, costly redistricting litigation once and for all.

With the help of the bipartisan nonprofit North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform (NC4RR), the Fairness and Integrity in Redistricting (FAIR) Act proposes a state constitutional amendment that complements current state and federal redistricting laws by requiring clear standards to guide the legislature in the drafting of state and congressional voting districts in North Carolina.

Under North Carolina’s current system, voting districts are drawn with the help of political consultants and outside cartographers using sophisticated software designed to draw lines using specific information about race and political affiliation to create voting districts favorable to the majority. Districts are drawn with minimal public input and cannot be vetoed by the governor.

The FAIR Act would eliminate the use of partisan data when drawing voting maps, require voting districts to be contiguous and compact, and bring a set of transparency guidelines to the redistricting process. Rules containing the necessary checks to control and guide a just redistricting process would be written and enshrined in the North Carolina Constitution.

The courts play an important role in enforcing the Constitution and ensuring compliance with redistricting laws, but enacting reform cannot and should not be the job of the judiciary.

It is incumbent upon the legislative branch to identify weaknesses in the current law and address this problem that has plagued North Carolina for decades. Simply put, the judiciary cannot, nor should it, do the job of legislators. If the North Carolina Constitution sets out clear rules for the legislature to follow in redistricting, the judiciary’s job is to ensure that those rules are followed by the legislature.

As we approach another decade and redistricting cycle based on the 2020 census, we believe now is the time to end the constant efforts to win elections by unfair redistricting processes. A first step in doing so is through advocating for bipartisan cooperation to pass legislation for a constitutional amendment creating guidelines for fair redistricting that, while enforceable by the judiciary, will eliminate the need for judicial intervention. We ask all North Carolinians, including the legal community, to join us in advocating for a legislative solution to this longstanding problem that will eliminate the need for constant litigation.

Rhoda Billings, a former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Orr, a former Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, are board members of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform.