June 14–We'll give Gov. Roy Cooper credit for trying to do the right thing. But he had to know his mission would fail. He had as much chance of getting Senate leader Phil Berger to register as a Democrat as he did in getting Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore to go into a special session to create new legislative districts and call a special election to fill them before the General Assembly’s 2018 session.
Cooper got what he likely expected: a flat turndown.
It doesn’t matter to Republican leaders that courts found 28 of the state’s House and Senate districts were illegally gerrymandered on a racial basis. It doesn’t matter that the U.S. Supreme Court concurred. It only matters that the Supreme Court also gave them a free pass from having to fix the mess immediately. They aren’t a bit inclined to refuse the pass and do the right thing promptly. And why should Cooper or anyone else expect they would? After all, they knew exactly what they were doing when they drew those maps back in 2011, just as they knew what they were doing when they “reformed” election law in ways that another court found targeted minority voters “with almost surgical precision.” They used race as a tool to reduce the effectiveness of Democratic voting and chose to worry later whether a court would catch them in illegal tactics.
So the court did catch them, but there’s still room for heel-dragging. On the gerrymandering matter, the Supreme Court kicked the case back to the lower court, asking the justification and practicality of ordering an immediate remapping and elections for the fixed districts in the middle of the General Assembly’s two-year term. The Republicans say it’s not practical, that it should wait until the 2018 elections. Democrats – including Cooper – want it to happen right away.
If the lower court backs away from its order for new elections this year, then the battle ends in a draw. The new districts will be drawn, but not this year. And we'll be surprised if they’re redrawn in a way that Democrats like. Thus, another trip back to the courts. But if the lower court does order a new election this year – and the three-judge panel has told both sides to file their motions promptly – then we see another Republican challenge that will end up before the Supreme Court. Either way, this thing gets delayed and elections for the redrawn districts are more likely next year.
This wrangle has been going on since 2011 and there’s no end in sight – except, of course, the 2020 census, which will trigger yet another round of redistricting, followed by years of legal challenges.
We are weary of this endless conflict, as, we expect, are most North Carolina voters. We know we would be best served by an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission, and the gerrymandering follies we see before us are all the evidence we need.