As you may recall, back in January a panel of judges from the Fourth Circuit ruled that North Carolina’s congressional districting map was excessively partisan and needed to be redrawn. But in June, the Supreme Court heard an appeal to the ruling and, rather than firmly deciding one way or the other, sent the case back to the judges and ordered them to take a fresh look at it. Well, the judges did precisely that but came once again to the same conclusion this week. They are rejecting the map and suggesting that new one may need to be drawn prior to the midterm elections. And keep in mind that on Saturday, it’s going to be September.
Federal judges on Monday affirmed their earlier decision striking North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional because Republicans drew them with excessive partisanship.
Acting under an order of the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine the case, the three-judge panel ruled again in favor of election advocacy groups and Democrats who had sued to challenge the boundaries drawn in 2016.
The Greensboro-based court also raised the possibility of directing the GOP-dominated legislature to redraw the maps by mid-September so they could be in effect for the fall elections, or getting an outside expert to do so. The printing of ballots has been delayed while other fall election matters are in court.
Perhaps it’s just me, but this sounds crazy. If they don’t like the map and believe that it should be redrawn, that’s certainly a valid discussion to have. As I’ve written here many times in the past, the congressional district maps all across this country are a massive, gerrymandered mess, and both parties are equally guilty of doing this in the places where they control the state government. But if judges find the map to be faulty and the decision is appealed to the SCOTUS and not upheld, that should at least give them pause.
Part of the blame here lies with the Supreme Court. If they had made a solid ruling one way or the other in June North Carolina wouldn’t be in this mess. If they disagreed and said the map was fine we would be on our way to normal elections. If they had upheld the Circuit Court judges and ruled the map faulty there would probably have been time to draw up a new one by now. But even that would have been problematic in terms of implementing the new map for this November. The state’s primary elections were held in May, before the Supreme Court even spoke on the matter, using the current map. The voters evaluated the various candidates and cast their ballots based on that map. The candidates campaigned inside those district lines.
Now you’re going to consider turning around and redrawing the lines? People are going to wind up voting in elections where they had no voice in the primary. Candidates will be judged by people who never had the chance to look them over throughout the year. Can they even get the ballots printed up and distributed in time once the new map is finished? They were already supposed to be done by now but were put on hold pending the decision.
I’m not sure the judges realize what sort of a can of worms they’re threatening to break open here. The state legislators have been arguing over this map for two years now. Do the judges honestly believe that they’re going to crank out a new, acceptable one in the next seventeen days? And if they do, that still won’t address the laundry list of problems I pointed out above. There may indeed be a need for a new map, but it should be in place for 2020, not two months from now. Just for the sake of expediency the Fourth Circuit should hold their noses and let these elections move forward with the districts they currently have.