Redistricting North Carolina

This July 15 file photo shows a districts map as a three-judge panel of the Wake County Superior Court presides over the trial of Common Cause, et al. v. Lewis, et al at the Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh, N.C. The three-judge North Carolina panel was considering whether politicians can be too extreme in drawing legislative voting districts to their advantage, a judgment the U.S. Supreme Court refused to make about congressional elections. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

A North Carolina court is set to review the Republican-led legislature’s revised plan for new legislative and congressional district lines, and its response could reshape the state’s political landscape.

Judges rejected the version of new districts lines because it gave the GOP an extreme advantage. Such gerrymandered districts are harmful to democracy but can be found across the nation, including in South Carolina.

Gerrymandering gives an unfair edge to incumbents of both parties because districts are stacked with either Republicans or Democrats. But the party in power obviously gets the most benefit because it can create the most “safe” districts for its side. Too often, this means that the party primaries make the general election moot.

Unfortunately, the partisanship works both ways. North Carolina Democrats have already said they would not be bound by the court’s decision if they win control of the legislature in 2020. They also complained that the legislature violated the court decision in the way it created — or, more accurately, selected — a new political map.

The GOP also was upfront with its intent to gobble up as many districts as possible during the redistricting. North Carolina Rep. David Lewis, who led the redistricting, in 2017 declared, “We want to make clear that to the extent we are going to use political data [e.g., party affiliation] in drawing this map, it is to gain partisan advantage on the map.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 registered its distaste for partisan gerrymandering as being “incompatible with democratic principles,” but found no federal legal standard for deciding when redistricting, a political activity assigned by the U.S. Constitution to state legislatures, had become illegally too political. It said the problem should be solved by the states.

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This leaves the question of politically driven redistricting pretty much where it has been, an intensely partisan concern with no clear rules. All around the nation states are gearing up for the redistricting in 2021 that will follow the 2020 Census. The political stakes are high. In a number of states the change of a few legislative districts from one party to the other could change the state from red to blue or vice versa.

The most workable solution to endless lawsuits over political redistricting in North Carolina and other states is the formation of an independent redistricting commission. This sensible idea has been floated in South Carolina over the years but failed to gain any traction. Our legislature should look at it again next year. Our democracy and the public deserve better.