Soon, a panel of state court judges in North Carolina will decide whether the maps that Republican lawmakers drew to elect members of both the state House and the Senate violate the rights of Democratic voters by unfairly entrenching GOP rule. In the likely event that the courts rule that these gerrymanders do indeed run afoul of the state’s constitution, North Carolina will need new election districts. The question is, who will get to draw them?
Ordinarily, in cases like these, state legislators would get the chance to craft remedial maps. These representatives, the thinking goes, were elected by the public and are therefore best situated to fulfill its will. But there’s one very obvious problem: The Republican majority that controls the state’s legislature was elected under the very gerrymanders the GOP designed precisely in order to thwart the desires of the public.
And that ill-gotten majority has spent the last six years engaged in a never-ending battle to seize power from the people they’re supposed to represent. During that time frame, Republicans have repeatedly passed laws to suppress voting rights, manipulate how judges are elected, discriminate against black voters, and, of course, gerrymander every manner of elective body.
But this Republican war on voting has gone very, very poorly: Courts, both state and federal, have struck down GOP power grabs no fewer than 21 times in just the last half-dozen years—including the current case challenging the state’s legislative maps—with more cases still pending. With this track record, there’s just no way that the courts should allow Republicans to draw new lines.
The list speaks for itself:
- 2015: The Supreme Court vacated a ruling that upheld Republicans' 2011 legislative gerrymanders against charges of racial discrimination, ordering the state courts to redecide the case.
- 2017: The Supreme Court again vacated a ruling that had upheld Republicans' 2011 legislative gerrymanders against charges of racial discrimination, once again ordering the state courts to redecide the case.
- 2017: The Supreme Court finally struck down Republicans' 2011 legislative gerrymanders for racial discrimination.
- 2017: After Republicans drew replacement legislative gerrymanders in 2017, a federal court blocked them. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court regarding some specific districts, but some of those were later invalidated by a state court (see two bullets down).
- 2018: A state court confirmed that the GOP's 2011 legislative gerrymanders illegally discriminated, but they had already been redrawn by that point.
- 2019: A state court struck down four gerrymandered state House districts for violating a state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting.
- 2016: A federal court struck down Republican gerrymanders of the county commission and school board districts in Wake County (home to the state capital of Raleigh and over 1 million people) for violating the principle of "one person, one vote."
- 2017: A federal court struck down a Republican gerrymander of the Greensboro City Council districts for violating the principle of "one person, one vote."
Voter SUPPRESSION and denying Ballot Access
Manipulating Judicial Elections
- 2016: A state court ruled that Republicans violated the state constitution by trying to switch the 2016 judicial elections to a retention-election format without first amending the state constitution—a failed attempt to avoid Republican incumbent Bob Edmunds losing that year's state Supreme Court election to Democratic challenger Mike Morgan.
- 2018: A state court struck down a Republican-backed law that retroactively stripped party-switching Republican candidates of their party affiliation, after the GOP eliminated primaries for judicial elections in a failed attempt to beat Democrats in hopes that the vote would be split among multiple progressives on a single, all-party ballot.
Attacks on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence
- 2017: Republicans tried to grab power from the executive branch after Democrat Roy Cooper won the governorship in 2016, but a state court struck down their attempt to thwart Cooper from appointing a Democratic majority to the state Board of Elections and filling other executive branch positions.
- 2018: The state Supreme Court struck down the GOP's second attempt to block Cooper from appointing a Democratic majority on the Board of Elections.
- 2018: A state court struck down the GOP's third attempt to block a Democratic majority on the Board of Elections, finally allowing Cooper to appoint one.
- 2018: A state court blocked the deceptive ballot language Republicans had written for two constitutional amendments that they put on the ballot to effectively gerrymander the judicial branch and reshape the Board of Elections to deny it a Democratic majority. (Both amendments, with rewritten language, lost at the ballot box.)
But this lengthy list of courtroom defeats is by no means the end of the story. Republicans are currently facing several more election-related lawsuits, in addition to the current case challenging their legislative districts:
While the courts should, of course, take into account this entire litany as they decide whether to let Republicans take yet one more stab at redrawing North Carolina’s legislative maps, one particularly notable moment stands out.
After their original legislative gerrymanders were struck down in 2017 for discriminating against black voters, Republicans told the judges hearing the case in July of that year that there wasn't enough time to draw new maps in order to use them in special elections that November, as the court had originally ordered. Republicans went so far as to claim that they had not even begun work on new lines, leading the district court to agree to wait until 2018 to impose remedial maps.
But in reality, documents from deceased GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller that were uncovered earlier this year exposed that claim as a lie. Not only had Hofeller (who died last year) already begun drawing new maps in late 2016, when the districts were initially invalidated, but he'd almost finished drawing new maps by July of the following year, when Republicans were pleading to the court for more time. (GOP lawmakers ultimately passed Hofeller's maps later that year.) Republicans also claimed that they hadn’t provided data on racial statistics for the new maps to Hofeller, something his archive also showed was false.
That case was ultimately resolved with the judges accepting some of the GOP's redrawn districts and rejecting others in favor of the court's own lines. However, those new maps didn't take effect until the regularly scheduled 2018 elections, instead of in special elections a year earlier, as the court had originally sought.
And that delay—brought about by Republican lies—had major consequences. Republicans wound up losing their ill-gotten supermajorities last year, but had special elections been held in 2017, those supermajorities almost certainly would have come to an end then.
During that extra year of unfettered power, GOP lawmakers kept on passing legislative power grabs, including many that, as the list above illustrates, were struck down by the courts. But they also went a step further and tried to change the state’s constitution by half a dozen amendments on the ballot last year, four of which were approved by voters. (Two were later struck down and are still in litigation.)
Republicans, in other words, lied to delay early elections in order to keep themselves ensconced in power, then used that opportunity to further entrench themselves there. If they’re given the chance to draw new maps, they’ll simply do the same thing once again. That’s why the courts should take it upon themselves to provide North Carolina with fair districts—Republicans never will.
For a summary of each individual case mentioned in this post, including party names and links to court documents, please click here.