On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that found North Carolina’s legislative districts were racially gerrymandered in 2011.
Though the Court affirmed the ruling that the gerrymandering was racially motivated, it was critical of an NC federal district court's order that special elections be held in 2017 to fix the gerrymandered districts. Neither documents were signed by any of the justices, and no dissents were noted.
That same day, Common Cause N.C. held a public hearing on gerrymandering to support a bill that would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission in the NC legislative office building.
A bill to fix the gerrymandering issue was introduced with 39 bipartisan cosponsors from the NC House in February, but it has not been brought to the committee yet.
Common Cause NC, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, held a public hearing in the NC legislative office building in Raleigh to draw attention to the bill.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Bob Phillips, director of Common Cause, said in a statement that the bill would allow for fair, nonpartisan redistricting by creating an advisory commission independent of the party politics of the General Assembly.
“This common-sense reform would spare our state from prolonged court battles and instead give North Carolina citizens greater confidence in the integrity of our elections," he stated.
Mitch Kokai, a senior political analyst at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said his organization has supported the creation of an independent redistricting system for years.
“Just because lawmakers can draw election maps the way they have for decades doesn’t mean they should,” he said. “A fundamental principle of our representative government is popular sovereignty. People should choose their elected representatives, not the other way around.”
Jennifer Rudolph, a representative from Stronger NC, said elected officials’ refusal to vote on the bill stems from their worry about being reelected.
“Fair maps create competitive campaigns. So if they’re worried about that, then we should be worried about democracy,” Rudolph said.
Peter Holfelder, from Cary, said at the hearing he hoped to offer an argument in support of the bill from his conservative point of view.
“Distributing districting power with an independent body by decentralizing power and providing additional checks and balances is a fundamentally conservative position,” he said. “There’s no real reason not to support these bills, but if you’re a conservative, you must support them.”
Sandy Bundgaard, from Greensboro, said she talked to a representative about gerrymandering and was not satisfied with their response.
“I asked one of our representatives early on about redistricting and was told that they were going to keep it as it is, because that’s the way it had been done before they got here,” she said. “That doesn’t sit well with me, that’s very childish. That’s playground language.”
Kokai said a problem with the current redistricting process is how the government leaders benefit directly from drawing favorable maps for their own party’s political goals.
“It’s a flawed process and North Carolina deserves better,” he said.
Common Cause NC is part of a separate lawsuit that will challenge the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, given that racial gerrymandering in the state has already been struck down by the federal courts.
“We have seen Republican legislative leaders respond to previous court rulings against their racial gerrymandering by then brazenly gerrymandering along partisan lines with similar effect — creating voting districts that continue to deprive North Carolinians of a voice in choosing their representatives,” the statement said. “We are hopeful that, like racial gerrymandering, the federal courts will ultimately ban partisan gerrymandering.”
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