A Supreme Chance For NC Gerrymandering To Come To An End

Jun 24, 2019

I was talking to Richard Vinroot the other day when the subject of gerrymandering came up.

Vinroot, for those of y’all who are new to town, was mayor of Charlotte from 1991 to 1995. He’s a moderate Republican, but he is most definitely a Republican. His party has used gerrymandering to its advantage all throughout the country, especially here in North Carolina. He wishes they wouldn’t.

Vinroot and Jim Martin, a former Republican governor, have talked to the GOP leaders of the legislature over the years about making political districts more fair, and more reflective of the state’s population. They’ve even suggested delaying the changes 10 or 12 years, so current officeholders could protect their seats.

They’ve gotten nowhere.

Sometimes power only respects power. And so gerrymandering in North Carolina has landed in a powerful place: the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court is expected to rule as soon as today on a case brought by the advocacy group Common Cause. The suit claims that the state’s congressional maps are unconstitutional because they’re drawn to favor one party.

It doesn’t help the state’s case that Republicans in the General Assembly made it clear that’s what they were trying to do. And it worked. In the 2018 elections, Republicans won nine of the 12 seats even though they got just 50 percent of the statewide votes.

There’s one seat still up for grabs – the now-famous District 9, which has gone through more drama than a Netflix series. Republican Dan Bishop will face Democrat Dan McCready in a special election for the seat in September. But let’s take a moment to remember just what that district looks like.

District 9 crawls like a slug across the northern border of South Carolina, taking in a wedge of south Charlotte but stretching all the way across to Fayetteville. It’s beyond any notion of common ground or common sense. Last time around it produced a close race – it looked like Republican Mark Harris had beaten McCready by just 905 votes, before we found out there was election fraud involved, and Harris dropped out of the race. But the district is designed so a Republican should normally win, while drawing in enough Democrats to keep them from getting a majority in some other district.

Both parties have been guilty of rigging the system over our history. But lately the Republicans have made it an especially dark art. In a court filing, Common Cause accused lawmakers of lying about their intentions. The group cited files of a GOP mapmaking strategist who died last year. It's also a charge that GOP lawmakers vehemently deny in their own court filing.

Look. One good rule in covering politics is that there’s no telling what the Supreme Court will do. They could rule that gerrymandering is shady but not unconstitutional. But even with two new members appointed by President Trump, the court recently ruled in favor of Democrats in a similar case in Virginia.

Well, I say they ruled in favor of Democrats. The truth is, they ruled in favor of elections where both parties start on level ground, with an equal chance to win.

That sounds like a pretty good definition of democracy. It sure doesn’t sound like the way North Carolina works right now.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Editor's note: This column has changed to make clear that allegations that GOP lawmakers lied come from an accusation in a Common Cause court filing. The group did not provide evidence in its filing that lawmakers lied.