Late Friday Federal Court Ruling Strikes Down Gerrymandered Districts
Late Friday, three federal appellate judges threw out congressional voting maps the Republican-led General Assembly drew five years ago, ruling that two districts were gerrymandered along racial lines. Judges ordered state lawmakers to redraw the maps within two weeks.
As WRAL reported, “the three-judge panel ruled that the 1st Congressional District, which spreads like an octopus across northeast North Carolina and has a tentacle that dips into Durham County, and the 12th Congressional District, which snakes along Interstate 85 between Greensboro and Charlotte, were drawn specifically so that the majority of voters in each were black.” More media coverage and reaction to the February 5 ruling >>
“There is strong evidence that race was the only nonnegotiable criterion and that traditional redistricting principles were subordinated to race,” 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the court. “In fact, the overwhelming evidence in this case shows that a (black voting-age population) percentage floor, or a racial quota, was established in both CD 1 and CD 12. And, that floor could not be compromised.”
Democracy North Carolina Responds to Ruling
Statement from Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall:
We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence.
Democracy North Carolina is a plaintiff in a related challenge that is working its way through the courts. We oppose the maps because they aggressively segregate voters and undermine the ability of voters to form multiracial “fusion” coalitions to advance a meaningful multiracial society. We are encouraged to see federal judges agree that the maps are the product of what amounts to computerized apartheid. “Elections should be decided through a contest of issues, not skillful mapmaking,” wrote U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn. “Today, modern computer mapping allows for gerrymandering on steroids, as political mapmakers can easily identify individual registrations on a house-by-house basis, mapping their way to victory.”
There will be a lot of teeth gnashing and tongue lashing about the chaos this ruling creates, but two important points should not be overlooked. First, this ruling sends a important signal for the other court challenges to recent manipulations of election law in North Carolina. Here are federal judges ruling that General Assembly leaders purposeful used racial bias in deciding election procedures! Second, as for the election underway, the ruling only affects the primary for NC’s 13 US House seats, i.e., the process for deciding each party’s nominees for the general election. The other primary elections could proceed, unless a court quickly blocks them. North Carolina has had redistricting decisions cause parties to pick nominees in the summer before, or even decide to pick them through a caucus or convention method rather than popular ballot.
We deserve fair districts before the general election is held. Don’t let backers of the racially gerrymandered districts get away with blaming the messengers who spoke the Truth and finally got some judges to pay attention. The mapmakers should have known better at the beginning of their power-grabbing exercise, paused to be a little less greedy, and saved us all from the turmoil caused by their excessively partisan manipulation of election laws. Maybe they believe dividing voters by race serves their interests, but it actually undermines everyone’s faith in fair elections.