From The Reflector: GOP failure justifies special map master
The current legislature of North Carolina was found to be unconstitutionally elected by the Supreme Court. The current legislative maps were found to be illegally racially gerrymandered and when the legislature was ordered to re-draw the maps, they dragged their feet for as long as possible, held sham public hearings, and ended up with new maps that are still racially gerrymandered. A panel of federal judges now will appoint a special master to redraw the districts more fairly. The GOP asked if they could try again, in order to stall even longer. The three-judge panel said no.
Republican legislators called it strange that federal judges last week proposed hiring an outside expert to help fix illegal state House and Senate districts.
No, strange was what they presented to the court. The prime example would be the Senate districts for Guilford County.
Guilford is strongly Democratic. In last year’s elections, Hillary Clinton won 58 percent of the vote here. Roy Cooper won 61 percent. Yet Republican legislators submitted a map to a panel of federal judges in Greensboro that likely would give Guilford County three Republican state senators to just one Democrat.
To accomplish that amazing feat, they had to attach portions of Guilford County to a pair of districts anchored in Alamance and Randolph counties.
The lone Democratic district, currently represented by Sen. Gladys Robinson, is one of several identified by the court as either in violation of the Constitution or “otherwise illegally unacceptable.” Also in that category is a Senate district spanning Hoke and Cumberland counties and seven House districts — including one represented by Democrat Pricey Harrison of Greensboro.
In the case of the Robinson and Harrison districts, high concentrations of black voters were packed together. That’s a common tactic for creating adjoining districts that are predominantly white and Republican. GOP legislators contend it’s legal to do that for reasons of partisan advantage. But the correlation between race and party affiliation is so strong that partisan gerrymandering is essentially the same as illegal racial gerrymandering.
In last week’s court order, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles stated an intent to appoint an independent “special master” to evaluate the districts and help correct them. The expert identified is Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily, “who has extensive and impressive practical and academic experience in the field; who has consulted about election matters on a bipartisan basis; who has no apparent conflict of interest here; and who has time available over the next few weeks to complete the work required by this appointment.” Speed is important because filing opens in February for 2018 elections.
State Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) complained that the court’s remedy “could seize a fundamental right from the people of North Carolina and hand it to a single person with no accountability to North Carolinians.” Legislative lawyers also accused Persily of making critical comments about their redistricting in the past.
These objections warrant no sympathy. The people of North Carolina, and certainly the people of Guilford County, haven’t had their rights respected by legislators who manipulate elections for partisan advantage. Legislators can’t be held accountable when they craft safe districts for themselves. Elections are meaningless when outcomes are determined in advance.
Guilford County numbers illustrate how unbalanced these districts are. There were nine legislative contests here last November. In six, only one candidate appeared on the ballot. Of the others, one was decided by 57 percentage points and a second by 20. Only Republican Sen. Trudy Wade’s 53 percent to 47 percent victory over Democrat Michael Garrett in Senate District 27 was competitive.
As for Persily, his views seem to be in line with those of the court, making him a good choice to carry out the court’s will.
This has gone on long enough. The court issued its initial finding of improper gerrymandering in 28 districts in August 2016. It allowed the legislature ample time to make corrections. Lawmakers failed to address problems in nine of those districts. The court’s patience has nearly run out and the legislature deserves no more chances. The court must finish the job itself with the help of an independent expert.
Voters should demand fair districts so they can elect representatives who answer to all the people, not just to one political party. That’s not strange, that’s democracy.