The Transylvania Times -

Arizona Wins, NC Loses


The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling approving independent commissions to redraw legislative districts is good news for voters. The case came from Arizona where 56 percent of the voters approved a ballot initiative giving redistricting authority to an independent commission. Some of the state’s legislators sued, claiming the initiative was unconstitutional.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Ginsburg wrote “the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power.” The ballot initiative is a form of “direct democracy” that many states and counties use on various occasions. (In this county, it was employed last fall regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages in the county.) If the Supreme Court had ruled against the Arizona initiative, not only would it have emboldened the practitioners of gerrymandering, but the validity of ballot initiatives all across the country would have been thrown into doubt.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, cited the Court’s recent negation of at least one ballot initiative when it decided to overturn many states’ bans of same-sex marriage. But there is a difference. The Court is right to overturn ballot initiatives that discriminate against one group of people. On the other hand, it is right to support initiatives that do not discriminate against any particular group while transferring more power to the people themselves.

The winners in this case are the voters, the people of Arizona, as well as other states in which independent commissions draw congressional boundaries. Instead of legislators gerrymandering districts to protect themselves and their party, a commission of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent draw the lines. Voters in states with such commissions seem pleased with the arrangement or at least prefer it to the self-serving legislators drawing boundaries.

There has been a movement in North Carolina in recent years to have an independent commission draw voting districts. Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, said, “The (U.S. Supreme Court) decision is good news because it reinforces the importance of citizens in the redistricting process. North Carolinians need to keep working to make a change in our system.”

Vinroot is not the only high-profile politician calling for an independent redistricting commission. Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker has joined with Vinroot to lead the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, and their efforts are supported by two former governors, Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Martin.

Unfortunately, some of those Republicans who were enthusiastic about having an independent commission when they were in the minority have crushed any chance of such legislation passing now that they are in the majority. State Senate leader Phil Berger introduced legislation to establish independent redistricting commissions in 2001 (Senate Bill 283), 2005 (Senate Bill 430), 2007 (Senate Bill 1122) and another in 2007 (Senate Bill 1093), and 2009 (Senate Bill 25).

But in February of this year when the Charlotte Observer asked why such bills had not made it to the Senate floor since he became leader of the Senate, Berger said, “I don’t see an independent redistricting commission or any of the proposals that have been floated as improving on the system that we have now.”

The newspaper, however, stated that the bills Berger has recently rejected “are nearly identical” to the bills he filed and “entire passages ... are taken verbatim from bills Berger co-sponsored.”

Berger is not alone in his hypocrisy. According to the Charlotte Observer, our own state senator, Tom Apodaca, said of a House bill calling for such a commission, “God bless ’em. I can’t wait to get it over here. It’s dead. It’s not going anywhere.”

Apodaca co-sponsored three of Berger’s bills when they were in the minority.

Democrats also have been equally hypocritical. When they were in the majority, they opposed such a commission. Now that they are in the minority, they support such a commission.

Gerrymandering diminishes the power of voters and undermines our democratic form of government. The current system places a disproportionate amount of power in the General Assembly. If the legislators are unwilling to create an independent commission, they can follow Arizona and let the voters decide.


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