The Supreme Court’s move Monday to send North Carolina’s controversial 2011 redistricting maps back for further study is not unexpected, but nonetheless welcome.
It became clear last month that the court was headed in that direction after it issued a similar edict to Alabama over its redistricting case. The court ruled 5-4 that Alabama’s political maps wrongly packed black voters into too few districts, watering down their voting clout while carving out safer districts for white Republicans.
The challenge to North Carolina’s maps is similar. Thus, it wasn’t a surprise that the justices on Monday overturned the N.C. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the 2011 boundaries for General Assembly and congressional races. Without elaborating, the nation’s highest court told the N.C. Supreme Court to consider the Alabama ruling and take another look at North Carolina’s electoral districts.
The Republicans who drew North Carolina’s map lines have insisted that they were simply following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by making sure there were black-majority districts. Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews and other GOP mapmakers said Monday that they’re confident the districts can withstand a second round of scrutiny.
But, as the civil rights groups and Democrats challenging the maps correctly note, the 2011 mapmakers added minorities to districts where blacks were already wielding considerable clout and electing candidates they favored.
Common sense suggests that you aren’t protecting the overall voting clout of minorities by packing more of them into districts they already control.
It would also suggest that the more of them you pack in, the safer you are making the turf outside such districts for the party they typically oppose – i.e., the GOP.
Events on the ground here in North Carolina since 2011 haven’t done much to disprove that argument. State politics have become more partisan. Conservatives in the N.C. Senate, freed by their safe seats, have adopted hard-right political stances that leave much of the state’s evenly divided electorate scratching its collective head.
Now, thankfully, the state Supreme Court will have to take a second look at the 2011 maps. While the state court reconsiders, N.C. legislators should take this as a sign that it’s time to clean up our troubled redistricting system. It was exploited by hyper-partisan Democrats for decades, and hyper-partisan Republicans have been enjoying their long-sought turn at the wheel.
Several reform bills have been put forward in the legislature. One from Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte and Republican Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville, calls for nonpartisan redrawing of districts starting in 2031.
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling offers new hope that we could perhaps see reform – or at least new maps – much sooner than that.