Republican legislative leaders may be howling in protest of a federal court ruling that orders North Carolina to hold a special legislative election in 2017 because of racially gerrymandered districts, but they’re the ones who are responsible for the inconvenience.
Following the 2010 Census, the reconfiguring of legislative and congressional districts came under the control of Republicans. Leaders were, perhaps understandably, feeling the rush of power they’d been denied for 100 years. But they went to amateurish extremes to skew districts in their favor, and among their maneuvers was the trick of packing minority voters into a limited number of districts, thus weakening their voting strength in others. Republicans were seeking a partisan advantage.
Courts recognize that partisanship in drawing districts is to be expected and offer some leniency. But gerrymandering with race as a dominating factor is not allowed. Republicans may have gotten support for their actions from state courts dominated by Republicans, but the federal courts earlier this year, in a ruling that was not at all surprising, threw out the legislative district map and ruled that 28 of the districts were unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering. The 2016 elections went ahead with the court’s blessing under the old maps. But legislators were told to draw new districts in 2017.
Now, a panel of federal judges has set a March 15 deadline for lawmakers to draw new district maps. All legislators in districts that are altered will have to run in 2017, having their current terms shortened. And it’s likely there will be many more contests than just those in the 28 unconstitutional districts, because drawing districts is rather like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When new lines are drawn, they touch on the lines of other districts as well.
Yes, this is quite a mess — for which Republicans are entirely to blame. Their howling about the ruling has more than a little irony. Two GOP leaders, Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Bob Rucho, issued a statement that said in part: “This politically-motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms.”
The problem with that logic is that Republican lawmakers attempted, with the drawing of unconstitutional, racially gerrymandered districts, to manipulate the “will of millions of North Carolinians” to give their party a blatantly unfair advantage in legislative races.