The Supreme Court’s recent unwillingness to decide on gerrymandering cases highlights the importance of local action.
On Monday, June 25th, the Supreme Court sent North Carolina’s gerrymandering case back to lower courts, allowing them to decide whether the map was fair. This case follows recent decisions to decline to change Colorado, Maryland, and Texas’ maps, as well. Gerrymandering, or the strategic drawing of district lines to benefit certain parties, certainly isn’t a new issue. Recent years; however, have seen an increase in state maps being reviewed in courts for unfair districting. North Carolina’s maps, where I’m from, have been reviewed in the Supreme Court multiple times.
Every time, the maps have been struck down as racial gerrymanders. Infamously, the term gerrymandering in government textbooks is typically accompanied by an image of North Carolina’s 12thdistrict. Here’s how it works. The North Carolina General Assembly, which decides what the districts look like, had a Republican-majority. Their goal, therefore, was to make sure the districts were drawn in a way that supported Republican candidates. For the 12thdistrict, which was drawn along a major highway, the legislators looped two major low-income, minority-heavy cities into the district. That way, traditionally Democratic voters would overwhelmingly represent that district, and numerous other districts would have a slight Republican voter majority. That is exactly how the previous election panned out.
Of the 13 NC elections, 10 Republicans won, despite only earning 53% of the state vote. North Carolina, as a traditionally divided swing state, is typically competitive in Presidential elections despite the legislative representation. Rep. David Lewis, a Republican within NC’s General Assembly, made clear that “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats… for the country.” He stated that the new maps would give a “partisan advantage to 10 Republicans,” which is exactly how the elections panned out. This most certainly isn’t a Republican problem.
Democrats and Republicans alike, when in the majority, have consistently used partisan gerrymandering to gain electoral advantage. It isn’t exactly illegal, either: racial gerrymandering is distinctly unconstitutional, but the lines are much blurrier in cases of partisan districting. Since all the recent, distinctly partisan cases of gerrymandering have been dismissed or returned to lower courts, that line remains unclear. But the fact of the matter is—elections designed to benefit a single party are not fair elections. It seems like the Supreme Court is unwilling to make that declaration. And when the national, non-partisan body refuses to declare something so undemocratic as unconstitutional, perhaps it’s time to start rallying local organizations for support.