Here’s What’s Going on with Gerrymandering in NC — Sen. Jeff Jackson
We lost the big gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court this week in catastrophic fashion.
It was a worst-case-scenario ruling. The Court — in a 5–4 decision — held that it isn’t valid for a federal court to even entertain a legal challenge to partisan gerrymandering under the federal constitution. It was similar, in legal effect, to the Court saying it doesn’t even have jurisdiction to hear the case.
Why did they rule that way? Because the majority claims that partisan gerrymandering is fundamentally a “political question.” Justice Roberts, writing for the majority: “We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”
That means he thinks that the Court shouldn’t be the body that makes this kind of determination; rather, the legislative body should fix any problems here, and if voters don’t like how their legislature is acting, then they can simply elect new legislators.
The circularity is pretty obvious here. The Court is basically saying, “If you don’t like your gerrymandered districts, just elect new legislators who won’t gerrymander.” Ah, but the ability to effectively elect new legislators is itself the issue. So that’s frustrating.
As Justice Kagan wrote in her powerful dissent, “The politicians who benefit from partisan gerrymandering are unlikely to change partisan gerrymandering. And because those politicians maintain themselves in office through partisan gerrymandering, the chances for legislative reform are slight… These harms arise because politicians want to stay in office. No one can look to them for effective relief.”
BUT there’s another court case. It’s Common Cause v. Lewis and it is in North Carolina state court. Its claim is that our state constitution prohibits partisan gerrymandering. (Pennsylvania was successful in the same approach and got a new map before the last election.)
The trial is on July 15th in Wake County Superior Court. Any verdict will be appealed and our state Supreme Court will end up making the final decision. When that ultimately happens is a significant question because candidate filing for the 2020 state legislative election is this December. Ideally, we would have a ruling before then, but who knows.
Remember: Whoever is in the majority after this next election will have the power to draw the maps (or empower an independent commission to draw the maps, as we should have done a long time ago…) that will last for the next decade. So this election is basically the decennial Superbowl of North Carolina politics.
The first bill I ever filed was to end gerrymandering by independent redistricting. I have filed the bill every subsequent year. It has never even been allowed a hearing. I’ve made videos, given speeches, written editorials, participated in documentaries — done basically everything I can think do here.
It’s become pretty clear that the only way this is going to end is by flipping seats. If leadership is blocking independent redistricting, then you simply need new leadership, and the only way to get there is by flipping at least one chamber (right now it takes five seats to flip either chamber). So that’s what the political path to ending gerrymandering looks like.
Full disclosure: My party had the opportunity to end gerrymandering when it had the majority but decided it liked the power too much. That was a major moral failure which led directly to this situation.
That’s the latest. You can always stay posted at @JeffJacksonNC.
- Sen. Jeff Jackson