By Nan Fulcher, HPTA member. News and Observer Op-Ed, July 7, 2017
Gerrymandering is not inherently illegal. But in 2011, racial bias was engineered into North Carolina’s congressional and legislative district maps, crossing the line into unconstitutional gerrymandering. This is no minor transgression. In the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, “racial gerrymandering strikes at the heart of our democratic process, undermining the electorate’s confidence in its government as representative of a cohesive body politic in which all citizens are equal before the law.”
Legal battles over North Carolina’s 2011 districts have taken many twists and turns, with multiple cases, dozens of districts in contention, and endless appeals. Nonetheless, the 2015 Harris v. Cooper outcome proved racial bias in two congressional districts. More recently, the Covington v. North Carolina decision from June 5 revealed 28 North Carolina districts were illegally biased.
Uplifting as these court victories might seem for preventing the complete collapse of North Carolina’s democratic process, there’s only so much they can fix. 2011’s outbreak of illegal maps has created a state filled with bogus districts ruled by bogus officials, neither of which is going anywhere anytime soon. North Carolina has been reeling from the ill-gotten gains of nearly eight years of illicit power, with civil liberties being stripped away and idealogues pushing their agendas, uncontested, into legislation.
Even more troubling, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) was named Chair of the House Redistricting Committee to repair Covington. Lewis has extensive redistricting experience – but not the good kind. It was Lewis, along with former Sen. Robert Rucho, who crafted (in secret) the unconstitutional districts back in 2011.
If you’re wondering what happened to all of the justice that was supposed to rain down from the gerrymandering court cases, the unfortunate reality is the courts move too slow given the GOP’s frenzied agenda. Plus, the courts have no overreach into the legislative process itself … and the legislature is exactly where the problem lies. And let’s be clear: Gerrymandering is a problem of power, not party. Both Democrats and Republicans have altered districts over the years, depending on who’s the majority.
The answer? The current situation underscores the need to take politics out of redistricting and the need for transparency. Both of these goals can be achieved with an independent, nonpartisan group commissioned to develop redistricting maps, using a clearly-defined process that allows public input and review.
Perhaps it’s predictable that some legislators don’t buy in to the idea of impartial redistricting. My challenge to those who are against it: if you run an honest district and truly represent your constituency, fair redistricting practices shouldn’t be a disadvantage.
So …what are you afraid of?
Nan Fulcher of Hillsborough is a microbiologist, writer, PTA mom and advocate for fair democracy and quality public education.