High court’s good call on districts

Justice Elena Kagan
Justice Elena Kagan AP

No less than the U.S. Supreme Court affirms the obvious: Congressional districts in North Carolina drawn in 2011 were racial gerrymanders, aimed at diluting the power of black voters by packing them into some districts and giving Republicans an edge in others.

It worked. Republicans hold 10 of 13 congressional seats, although some districts are curiously configured like ink-blot tests, shapes not conducive to effective representation by someone familiar with all parts of a district. GOP leaders, given the power to redistrict after the 2010 census, took full advantage and drew congressional and legislative districts not for efficiency but to ensure they’d maintain power, no matter how goofy the districts might be. It was an early sign of Republicans’ inexperience and lack of maturity in governing. It’s true that Democrats had certainly drawn districts for an advantage in the past, but not to the extreme extent Republicans did.

So now North Carolina taxpayers, thanks to Republicans, have spent and spent and spent fighting legal objections to districts clearly not drawn with serving the public in mind.

The high court’s 5-3 ruling announced Monday is only one in which districts drawn by Republicans across the United States have been challenged on the basis of alleged gerrymandering.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion, which said lawmakers (meaning Republicans) relied too heavily on race when drawing the districts. The GOP leaders have long contended that partisanship is common in redistricting and that race wasn’t the issue.

They lost, and now North Carolina may be facing the challenge of drawing new lines and having elections in 2017. If that is what it takes to comply, then so be it. Republicans should be ashamed of the extremes to which they went to gain partisan advantage, but they are not, of course. The simple, boiled-down view on their part is: We won, the Democrats lost and so we get to do whatever we want to do.

Wayne Goodwin, head of the Democratic Party and a longtime commissioner of insurance, had it right when he said, “North Carolina’s congressional districts have frequently been used as an example of some of the most gerrymandered maps in the country. Republicans in the General Assembly have constantly discriminated against African-Americans, and we hope to see an election cycle with the fair maps our state deserves.”

Kagan wrote of a Charlotte-area district in question: “The evidence offered at trial … adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration.”

With every legal loss, the embarrassment mounts for North Carolina, which once thought of itself as a progressive state when compared with its southern neighbors. Unfortunately, HB2 and other extreme actions by the GOP-run General Assembly have undermined that comparison.

This court ruling is more, and significant, evidence of that.