Five takeaways from the Supreme Court redistricting decision
Published February 10, 2022
By Tom Campbell
The Supreme Court decision that redistricting maps be redrawn to more accurately reflect the makeup of our state has five takeaways.
1. The increasing importance of the judicial system. North Carolina is the poster child of a divided state. We have an almost equal number of registered Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters. We have a legislative branch dominated by one political party and an executive branch by another. Even when both branches are controlled by the same party, they are sometimes at loggerheads. In this sue-happy environment an arbiter is frequently needed, forcing the courts into becoming de-facto legislators or executives.
2. Justice is partisan. The evidence indicates that the judicial branch has also become partisan. Too frequently the political affiliation of a jurist foretells the verdict. In the recent redistricting case, all four Democratic justices voted one way and the three Republicans voted in lockstep the other. Until recently this wasn’t so common, but its frequency is increasing, especially on the appellate level.
During oral arguments Chief Justice Paul Newby stated there’s nothing in our Constitution saying that elections should be fair. In fact, the Constitution has precious little to say about redistricting except that districts shall consist of contiguous territories of approximately the same number of people, that counties shall not be divided into separate districts and that districts are to be redrawn at the first regular legislative session following a decennial census and shall not be altered until another census is taken.
Carl Sandburg famously said, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell” Justice Newby seems to have chosen the latter course, demonstrating just how partisan our courts have become. In criticizing the verdict Newby said, “A majority of this Court, however, tosses judicial restraint aside, seizing the opportunity to advance its agenda.” He continued, accusing Democratic justices of “seeking to hide its partisan bias,” and further questioned the merits of his colleagues and the court itself. His rhetoric warrants censure.
3. We must insist on the continued listing of political affiliations in judicial elections. I now understand just how essential it is to know to which party a candidate belongs in making my decision on whom to vote. It increasingly appears that party affiliation is more important than credentials or experience. That may not be right, but it is correct.
4. The most important elections in 2022 will be judicial elections. This year’s elections have two Supreme Court contests. Sam Ervin IV and Robin Hudson, both Democrats have terms expiring this year. Ervin is running for re-election, but Hudson says she won’t seek another term, since she will reach the mandatory retirement age shortly after the election. Court of Appeals judges Lucy Inman, a Democrat, and Richard Dietz, a Republican, have announced they will run to fill her seat. Republican Court of Appeals Judge April Wood has signaled she will challenge Ervin’s seat.
The current 4-3 balance of Democrats to Republicans could evolve to 5-2 or even 6-1 in favor of the GOP if that party wins seats. Democrats could maintain the 4-3 plurality only if they hold both.
Our Court of Appeals, currently with 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats, will see big change. Seats currently held by Dietz and Inman will be open. Chief Judge Donna Stroud and John Tyson, both Republicans, along with Democrat Darren Jackson have terms expiring the end of December. Three of the 15 seats will be open and three more contested, meaning the margin of Republicans to Democrats could change significantly.
5. We need better redistricting criteria. Even though our Constitution does not dictate fair elections, fairness and equality are core values of this nation. The increased instances of partisan gerrymandering are a wakeup call we need better defined criteria. Fairness and equality are values imbued in our genetics, even if we haven’t done so good a job of living into them. No matter who draws the maps we must insist that every voter has an equal voice and every candidate has a fair opportunity to win election.
Our founders designed checks and balances into our government structure to make sure one branch did not violate those values, but a hyper partisan court can’t be effective in their role.
We need to act now to preserve our values. Our future depends on it.