Supreme Court Census Citizenship

Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court as the justices finish the term with key decisions on gerrymandering and a census case involving an attempt by the Trump administration to ask everyone about their citizenship status in the 2020 census, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

While South Carolina was evacuating, and waiting, we missed North Carolina getting completely scrambled.

And not by a slowpoke hurricane.

A panel of three Tar Heel State judges threw out North Carolina’s entire map of legislative districts last week, ordering its General Assembly to redraw them yet again. Why?

Well, because the judges declared the districts so partisan, so gerrymandered that they violated the state constitution by preventing free elections, free speech and equal protection.

The maps, “do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting,” the judges wrote. “It is not the free will of the People that is ascertained through extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rather, it is the carefully crafted will of the map drawer that predominates.”

Yeah, that’s been a problem across the country — and, to some extent, South Carolina — for years. Now, there may be a way to fix it.

Most states legislatures draw their own districts, as well as congressional district lines. The party that controls a statehouse generally tilts the electoral odds in their own favor. Democrats do it, and Republicans do it even more ... because they control more states.

North Carolina, however, is in a league of its own. The state is almost evenly divided by party — Republicans accounted for 53 percent of the voters in 2016 and 50.3 percent in 2018. However, the GOP has an 18-seat advantage in its Legislature (which has only 120 members), and 10 of 13 congressional districts.

As one Republican lawmaker was quoted as saying, they concocted the 10-3 congressional split only because they couldn’t figure out how to draw 11 safe GOP districts.

Now that’s shameless, even for a bunch of state politicians. And they know it; the GOP says it won’t even appeal the decision.

So, North Carolina is back to the drawing board — and many other states could be forced to follow suit thanks to a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

In June, the Supremes ruled, 5-4, that federal court isn’t the proper venue to decide state gerrymandering cases. Basically, the feds rebuked federalism.

Voting rights advocates considered it a horrible defeat because federal court historically has been the avenue for preserving basic rights. But the Supreme Court kicked all that back to the states, and this is what happened.

Experts on political redistricting and gerrymandering say the North Carolina decision, all 350-plus pages of it, provides a road map for other states to follow suit. There’s no telling how successful that will be, since states appoint judges differently. But as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips noted, North Carolina’s panel of judges included one Democrat, one Republican and one independent.

And none of them could see any sense in what the state had done. Few reasonable people could.

This isn’t a particularly sexy subject, but it’s especially important these days. Everyone needs to take off their partisan jerseys and see district-rigging for what it is: a danger to this country.

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Gerrymandered districts give elected officials no reason to compromise, moderate or even listen to opposing viewpoints. They are beholden only to the most extreme voters in their own party. And that’s not good for Democrats or Republicans. It only leads to gridlock and precludes serious debate.

Although it makes for good cable TV.

Most people are fairly middle-of-the-road, but the country has been overtaken by fire-breathers determined to drive us from one extreme to the other. Gerrymandering makes it easy.

In South Carolina, which, unlike North Carolina, is more red than purple, the state’s congressional delegation had been split, 6-1, in the GOP’s favor until Joe Cunningham won the 1st District last year. That may sound about right to many folks, but about 40 percent of the state’s residents are Democrats.

They aren’t New York or California Democrats; they’re decidedly more moderate. But their voices are almost completely unheard thanks to rigged elections. The nation doesn’t get South Carolina’s conventional wisdom; it largely hears from its malcontents.

Those North Carolina judges suggested districts should be drawn more by geography than by partisan identifiers. They’re right. That would lead to more representative government — and generally less embarrassment.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

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