North Carolina’s congressional map belongs in the trash. But practical necessity argues for keeping it for one more election. A panel of federal judges ruled Friday that the legislature violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause when it, in 2011, drew the 1st and 12th congressional districts [the latter of which takes in a large part of our area]. It ordered the legislature to fix them by Feb. 19. With absentee voting already begun ahead of the March 15 primary, and because changes to one district affect districts that border it, the remedy is disruptive. Yet the judges were right to point to the harm done by partisan politicians’ cynical manipulations. “Unfettered gerrymandering is negatively impacting our republican form of government,” Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. wrote in a concurring opinion. “Elections should be decided through a contest of issues, not skillful mapmaking.”
The maps were deftly drawn by Republican legislators, with the result that their party controls 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts. Two of the exceptions are the 1st and 12th, both crafted to elect black representatives. Democrat Alma Adams of Greensboro holds the 12th District seat.
In 2011, lawmakers increased the black voting-age population in both districts to more than 50 percent — even though black candidates had been winning easily when the districts held smaller concentrations of black voters.
In fact, the court found, legislators set a racial quota for those districts of more than 50 percent. Other traditional redistricting criteria were subordinated to meeting that quota, using supposed requirements of the Voting Rights Act as a pretext for doing so, the judges found. This balkanization of voters amounted to impermissible racial gerrymandering.