While you were watching Comey, Republicans in North Carolina were undermining SCOTUS
In the game of democracy, everyone agrees to play by the rules. Sometimes, the Supreme Court has to play referee and make a call on the play. In May, the Supreme Court called a foul on North Carolina Republicans for racially gerrymandering two Congressional districts, and just this week, 28 (!) state legislative districts. The penalty was to make the state legally and fairly redraw their districts. Republicans in the state tried to protest the call, but the Supreme Court held their ground.
So on Thursday morning, while you were busy watching James Comey testify, North Carolina Republicans decided they were taking their ball and going home.
In an effort to remedy North Carolina’s democracy problem, first-term Democratic Governor Roy Cooper did the only responsible thing he could and called for a special session of the Legislature so lawmakers could redraw the district lines.The special session (which would run concurrently to the legislature’s current session) would activate a state law that gives lawmakers 14 days to draw legal maps, or else the appeals court is given the power to redraw the lines.
The Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed that the North Carolina General Assembly had been operating under Republicans’ unconstitutional district lines since 2011 — which included three elections. Political scientist Andrew Reynolds’s Electoral Integrity Project — widely agreed to be the most accurate method for evaluating free and fair democratic elections — even said North Carolina’s gerrymandering was so bad that the state could “no longer be classified as a full democracy.”
In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table — a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.
But here’s what happened next: After Governor Cooper called the special session to fix the districts, the Republican-led North Carolina House voted 71–44 — along party lines — to cancel the special session. The vote wasn’t even taken in the GOP-controlled Senate, and the special session was cancelled under rules of order by the Senate Rules Chairman, Republican Bill Rabon, who deemed the special session unconstitutional.
So what does this all mean? While the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that 28 of North Carolina’s legislative districts were illegal racial gerrymanders, it also directed the lower court to replan its next steps for fixing it. So for the foreseeable future, nothing will change.
But as North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper put it, this legislature’s very existence continues to be “unconstitutional.” And with the court’s next steps in limbo, state Republicans will continue to drag their feet so they can pursue their agenda of banning same-sex marriage, defunding education in the middle of the night, imposing penalties on transgender people who use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, cutting food stamps for 133,000 people, funding anti-choice, non-medical crisis pregnancy centers, cutting the governor’s historic election oversight role (now that a Democrat is in office), changing election ballot laws to benefit their party, cutting funding from immigration sanctuary cities, and suppressing voter access.
It’s telling that the only way North Carolina Republicans think they can win is by breaking the rules or refusing to play the game at all.