Sue ’em, Greensboro

| July 8, 2015

imagesEditorial by Greensboro News-Record, July 8, 2015.

The city of Greensboro should take its case to federal court. It can challenge the election system dictated by the state legislature last week on several grounds.

It wouldn’t be easy. The legislature has a lot of power over cities and counties, but it still must exercise its authority within statutory and constitutional limits.

Some encouragement comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s March ruling in Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, in which it found impermissible racial gerrymandering under the Voting Rights Act, and a May decision by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In Wright v. North Carolina, the appeals court found merit in a constitutional equal protection challenge to Wake County school board redistricting by the legislature and ordered a district court to review the case.

A Greensboro lawsuit could claim, first, that the legislature used racial gerrymandering to achieve the political goal of helping Republicans win seats on the City Council.

Three of the eight newly redrawn council districts — 1, 2 and 4 — have large black majorities. Although Greensboro’s elections would remain nonpartisan, those districts also have large majorities of voters who are registered Democrats. This packing of black voters into those three districts dilutes minority influence in adjoining districts 3 and 8, making them more likely to elect Republican candidates.

District 6 has a black voting population of about 50 percent. This means that voters could elect as many as four African Americans to the council; however, the clear aim of this plan is not to reduce or increase the minority presence on the council but to use racial gerrymandering to boost the prospects for Republican candidates in other districts. This was the strategy of the Alabama legislature that led to the Supreme Court rebuke.

There also may be equal protection arguments. One would be based on the large deviation in voting population among the districts, ranging from 20,545 to 25,852, according to Guilford County Board of Elections preliminary figures. That doesn’t give a nearly equal voice to every voter. Another is that Greensboro, alone among North Carolina cities, is denied the right provided in state law to “alter its form of government” in the future but must instead appeal to the legislature for any desired changes. Because this provision was made in a local bill but affects the application of a statewide law, the city could contend it’s illegal. To defend its action, the legislature could be compelled in court to articulate some rational basis for treating Greensboro differently. Clearly, no rational basis exists.

Legal action should not be taken lightly. It would be expensive and might not succeed. First, the city would have to seek an injunction to delay the new scheme before this year’s election season moves too far along.

Yet, cities and counties should take a stand against the bullying, intrusive legislature. Enough is enough. As long as there’s a chance of prevailing in the federal courts, Greensboro should fight for the American ideal of self-government.

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

Comments (1)

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  1. Richard L Bunce says:

    Thanks for pointing out the fallacy of non partisan elections…

    State Chartered Municipal Corporations are the creation of the State Legislature. The Municipal Charter is created and modified by only the State Legislature. The Municipality cannot change it’s form of government, it can only request the Legislature make a change which the Legislature is under no obligation to do.

    The existing Municipal Council seats favor one group over another, so the same arguments can be made for the existing Council election method. The 3 existing at large seats favor the majority within the city.