Editorial by Fayetteville Observer, July 2, 2015.
In one of its final decisions before ending its term this week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s use of an independent commission to draw congressional districts.
We hope the leaders of the N.C. Senate took note. The decision gives them one less reason to resist a bipartisan initiative to create a redistricting commission here.
The latest redrawing of North Carolina’s congressional districts has brought several lawsuits. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered one such case, in which former state Sen. Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville is lead plaintiff, back to the state Supreme Court for further consideration. The order was based on a finding that Alabama relied too heavily on race in drawing its districts, which the North Carolina suit alleged as well.
That court decision sparked another federal suit in May, which includes four Cumberland County plaintiffs. That suit also claims unconstitutional gerrymandering based on race.
Shortly after the high court upheld Arizona’s redistricting commission, it also agreed to hear charges next fall that the commission wrongly used race and party membership in drawing state legislative districts. The decision in that case may well influence the North Carolina suits.
Lawsuits against redistricting are a North Carolina tradition, and they won’t end with these cases. Redistricting has always been done for political advantage, no matter which party was in charge.
That’s why 63 members of the N.C. House have endorsed an initiative to move redistricting out of the General Assembly and give it to a nonpartisan commission. The supporters are bipartisan, joined by former Govs. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican. Rep. Paul Stam, the Republican House speaker pro tem, has led efforts for the commission in the House. But Senate leaders won’t hear of it. In January, Senate Rules chair Tom Apodaca said no redistricting bill will have any chance in the Senate. “It’s dead. It’s not going anywhere,” he said. Senate leader Phil Berger appears to agree.
That’s unfortunate, because North Carolina’s voters are ready for a change, and there is broad support for it.
It’s also clear that the nation’s highest court is paying attention to excesses in redistricting zeal, especially when they involve race – which happened in this state’s last redrawing of electoral maps.
A redistricting commission could make that problem go away, and create some sensible district lines for the first time in generations.