The last time Republicans had to redraw districts – in 2016, when courts found North Carolina’s congressional map unconstitutional – they included a required 10-3 Republican advantage in the map-making criteria. At the time, Lewis said he didn’t think an 11-2 map was possible. On Thursday, Lewis said he probably wouldn’t say it that way if he could go back, but he was trying to show the courts that race wasn’t the deciding factor in new maps – partisan politics was. Political gerrymanders are legal, although a Wisconsin case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could change that. What the courts have forbidden is an over-emphasis on race when it comes to drawing lines.
Some attention to race is typically required, though, because North Carolina must comply with parts of the federal Voting Rights Act, which is meant to protect minority voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice. It is unclear how new maps will satisfy this point. When asked, Republican leaders repeatedly quoted from a court opinion that not only declared race was the predominant factor in drawing the old maps, but said GOP legislators failed to produce evidence showing they needed to rely on racial data to satisfy VRA requirements.
“The only way to comply … is not to consider race in that process,” Lewis said.
Democrats, and particularly black Democrats, were incredulous. “Do you understand that, by not using race, you’re defeating your own purpose?” asked Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. “The districts were declared unconstitutional because of race. If you don’t use race to correct it, how are you going to show the court that they’re not still unconstitutional?”