Last updated 4/1/2019 at 2:07pm
Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two companion cases on partisan gerrymandering. In a most unusual circumstance, the plaintiffs represented both political parties. In North Carolina in Rucho vs. Common Cause, plaintiffs argued and the lower courts agreed that the Republican-led legislature created unconstitutional districts. In Maryland in Lamone vs. Benisek, plaintiffs argued that the Democratic-led legislature created an unconstitutional district.
It is undeniable that extreme partisan gerrymandering exists in North Carolina. When it came time to redraw the U.S. Congressional maps, David Lewis, a Republican representing the 53rd House District in North Carolina, said, “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats becauase I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
Lewis has not recanted his statement that Republicans drew the districts to benefit themselves to the greatest degree possible. He doubled down on his opinion in a piece he and Ralph Hise, a Republican who represents the state’s 47th District, wrote in The Atlantic last Monday entitled “We Drew Congressional Maps For Partisan Advantage. That Was The Point.”
Facts bear out that Republicans used partisan gerrymandering to great advantage. In 2010, Democratic candidates in N.C. won seven of the state’s 13 Congressional districts, winning those districts by taking an average of 57.1 percent of the votes in those districts. But in 2012, after Republicans had gerrymandered the districts, Democrats won just four of the 13 districts by taking an average of 70.2 percent of the votes in those districts.
According to an article in The Atlantic, “In the case of North Carolina in 2012, the winning Democrats wasted 20.2 percent of votes on average (70.2 percent minus 50 percent plus one vote), whereas the winning Republicans wasted just 7.5 percent of votes on average (from an average share of 57.5 percent).” This is a reflection of what is called the efficiency gap in which “a party’s votes are used efficiently if they power many small victories across the board, and wasted if they contribute to large wins.”
When state legislators draw districts so the votes of an opposing party are “wasted” while the votes for their party “power many small victories across the board,” then the Constitutional rule that each vote should be of equal value, as codified in the doctrine of “one man, one vote,” has been violated.
Should the Supreme Court remedy that violation?
Yes. Many states that have independent redistricting commissions make it somewhat easy to hold referendums. They are referendum-friendly; North Carolina is not. In North Carolina, the change would have to come through the General Assembly or by order of the Supreme Court. The first is not going to happen. Political parties do not relinquish power willingly and based on the comments made last week by Lewis and Hise, Republicans have no intention of changing their approach to gerrymandering to remain in power. That leaves the courts to remedy the situation.
Justice Neil Gorsuch indicated Congress or the state legislatures might resolve the issue in the future. Such a hope is misplaced. Current members of Congress and legislators benefit from the current situation. They have shown no interest in resolving the problem. If the court fails to resolve partisan gerrymandering now with the belief the problem may be potentially resolved at some future point, that denies American voters in the present their Constitutional right. If, by chance, Congress or state legislatures resolve the issue by 2032, that’s still 13 years voters would have been denied their rights.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, “Extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy. I’m not going to dispute that.”
If this indisputable problem for our democracy is allowed to continue, there will be more corruption among politicians, party extremists will have a greater impact on policy, more political decisions will be made in contradiction to the majority of the people, and our government, society and country will become less democratic and more divided.
If, however, the Supreme Court resolves this indisputable problem, many of the problems that result from partisan gerrymandering also would be lessened or possibly resolved.