Op-Ed

More hypocrisy from gerrymandering NC GOP

Judicial maps are the next round of the redistricting debate in NC

A joint committee of the N.C. House and Senate meet over proposed judicial districts at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh on Jan. 23, 2018.
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A joint committee of the N.C. House and Senate meet over proposed judicial districts at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh on Jan. 23, 2018.

I make mistakes sometimes. Last week I made one I won’t soon repeat. I watched a tape of Rep. David Lewis’ press conference – explaining the Republican leadership’s outrage at being sued yet again, in another forum, for their demonstrably unconstitutional redistricting efforts.

Lewis and his Senate running buddy, Bob Rucho, have set some sort of land speed record for losing landmark voting rights cases in the federal courts. Lewis is apparently testy. (Rucho is now using his tempered wisdom to bully the UNC Board of Governors.) This is a little of what Lewis had to say, voice rising:

“Here we go again. These liberal dark money groups use and abuse the court system to achieve unprecedented chaos. (It) is all part of President Obama and Eric Holder’s plan…”

“What matters to these groups is not what is best for the people of North Carolina. It is not getting a clean map enacted by the General Assembly. Literally all they care about is electing Democrats – at all times and at all costs.”

Where to start?

I had thought maybe Lewis would begin by apologizing for costing the state what the Winston-Salem Journal reported last month to be north of $7 million in legal fees to defend his path-breaking experiments in electoral suppression. Alas, it was not to be.

Instead, he opened by blaming Obama. Really. For me, I missed the connection. Then I thought, maybe he meant he was so livid at having to countenance the likes of Holder and Obama for eight years, he simply had to do something. Denying North Carolina black folks their constitutional rights was the only thing close at hand.

Then Lewis turned to the “all they care about is electing Democrats” shtick. To be honest, at that point I momentarily lost consciousness.

A little perspective.

A three-judge federal court ruled, only a few months ago, that David Lewis and his buddies gave North Carolina the largest, most pervasive and continually deployed racial gerrymander ever seen in an American court. No small accomplishment, that. The race-based scheme was accompanied, judges also ruled, by an intentional, invidious program to deny blacks the right to vote. Lewis apparently thinks African-Americans have no interest in electoral participation in their own right. They merely offer themselves up as tools to wound Republicans.

Then, last month, another federal tribunal held that Lewis, “in order to entrench Republican congressional control” enacted a political gerrymander “of historic magnitude, not just relative to North Carolina history, but to that of the United States.” Lewis’ handiwork was the most brazen and egregious partisan political discrimination, we learned, to yet appear on our shores.

The judges ruled, specifically and pointedly, though sounding somewhat incredulous, that Lewis “acknowledged freely” he meant to cheat. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” Lewis said, and the court related, “so I drew the map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” If he could have crushed Democrats more profoundly, Lewis said, he would have. Still, he’s furious to be sued. That damnable Holder.

I suppose there’s much to be said here about pots and kettles. But somehow that understates Lewis’ hypocrisy. Shouldn’t some Republican operative have checked out his talking points? Wouldn’t you want to shy away from claims that your opponents are partisans for at least a couple of weeks after a federal judge explicitly determined you to be the most partisan mapmaker in history? Am I missing something?

I read a few months ago, in a piece by Thom Tillis, that President Trump and the Washington Republicans had learned great lessons from the Tar Heel General Assembly in crafting the new federal tax cuts. North Carolina paved the way, Tillis suggested, in assuring economic attractiveness by giving gigantic tax cuts to the very richest while raising the taxes and cutting the benefits of the very poorest. Who knew that greedy plutocrats would approve of getting big checks for themselves and crushing the life prospects of those at the bottom? I’ll be sure to make a note of it.

I fretted at the time, though, that the guidance and mentorship was a one-way street – with North Carolina Republicans teaching their DC counterparts but receiving no meaningful instruction in return. Not to worry. If we are giving helpful guidance to the new administration about tax policy, Donald Trump is now apparently providing David Lewis powerful and effective lessons in how to tell the truth.

Gene Nichol is the Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor of law at the University of North Carolina.

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