In mid-January, yet again, a three-judge federal court ruled the redistricting work of the North Carolina General Assembly to be a knowing, intentional and hugely impactful violation of the U.S. Constitution. This time the court struck down the apportionment of our federal congressional districts as an impermissible, extreme, partisan political gerrymander – designed, admittedly and successfully, to entrench Republicans in power and handicap their adversaries. The state yawned. We’re used to it. Rick Hasen, a professor at California-Irvine, is often said to be the nation’s leading election law expert. Hasen wrote that the decision could hardly be seen as a surprise, given what our legislature did. “If there is any case that could be invalidated as a partisan gerrymander, it is this one,” he indicated. It is “the most brazen and egregious” political electoral distortion yet seen in the United States. North Carolina leaders “admitted the practice, but argued it should be seen as perfectly legal.”
The Supreme Court stayed the federal court ruling pending appeal. And it is unlikely the review will be squeezed into the current term, given the late scheduling adjustments that would be demanded. The court presently has two political gerrymandering cases on the docket. But Hasen thinks the impact of the North Carolina decision will be felt immediately. The court now knows “what the future of gerrymandering will look like if it is doesn’t act in the Wisconsin or Maryland cases,” Hasen wrote. We point the way to darkness.
The U.S. Supreme Court has been unable to agree on a workable standard to evaluate political gerrymanders, though it has held that “partisan gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principle.” As Justice Stevens has put it, such bias constitutes “an abuse of power that evinces fundamental mistrust of the voters, serving the self-interest of political parties at the expense of the public good.”