Federal judges in North Carolina have ruled that the district lines drawn in 2011 were done so unconstitutionally based on race. This ruling is a victory for civil rights and a potential victory for Democrats looking toward 2018 and 2020 elections. It also goes hand in hand with a ruling made earlier this year that also rejected lines drawn for U.S. House members. The ruling was reached in a unanimous decision by judges appointed by Clinton, Bush, and Obama.
WRAL reported, however, that voters this year will be voting in congressional districts that have been ruled unconstitutional, as the decision will not have any impact on this year’s election. The panel’s reasoning is that there would not be enough time to redraw district lines.
‘We regrettably conclude that due to the mechanics of state and federal election requirements, there is insufficient time, at this late date, for: the General Assembly to draw and enact remedial districts; this Court to review the remedial plan; the state to hold candidate filing and primaries for the remedial districts; absentee ballots to be generated as required by statute; and for general elections to still take place as scheduled in November 2016.’
The North Carolina General Assembly will be required to redraw the lines in 2017.
This is neither the first nor the second time federal judges have ruled North Carolina’s district lines unconstitutional. This is actually the fourth time in decisions that affect all levels of government, from federal to local.
Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), who both headed the drawings, were disappointed with the court’s decision. But, they celebrated the fact that the decisions will have no lasting impact on this year’s election, stating, “However, we are relieved for voters that the district court did not disrupt the current election that is already underway. Our attorneys are currently reviewing today’s ruling and evaluating next steps.”
Politically, Democrats have regained a competitive edge in elections and stand a chance at retaking the House and Senate, which is a good thing for the people of North Carolina and the United States. The decision also is an acknowledgement that racism does, in fact, still exist in all levels of government and that racial gerrymandering is not some archaic vocabulary term in Southern history books.
The court wrote in one decision that North Carolina’s voting law was “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow” and that it targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Anita Earls, said that the original district lines were “a recipe for permanent racial segregation.”
The decision also sends Republicans a message that all eyes are on them and that they must play fair. They will now be more intensely scrutinized, as they should be. Rep. Yvonne Holley (D-Wake), Rep. Gary Pendleton (R-Wake), and Rep. Garland Pierce (D-Scotland) all noted that the state Senate might have to concede and give up their much-desired control over map-making and hand it over to an independent commission. Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina confirmed this, commenting, “Today’s decision is yet more evidence that North Carolina clearly needs to establish an impartial redistricting process that puts voters ahead of partisan politics.”