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Monday, March 18, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The Supreme Court’s ruling Monday that North Carolina Republicans had illegally segregated voters by race to create two U.S. House seats after 2010’s redistricting is a snapshot into the Republican dynamics of power-hungry partisanship and institutional racism. It also shows what the Court’s more liberal approach might have been if Senate Republicans hadn’t refused to consider President Obama’s nominee for the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

At issue was extreme partisan gerrymandering, when one party controls state government the year political boundaries are redrawn (usually after the once-a-decade Census) and ends up with outsized gains, or more seats in its legislature and U.S. House delegation than statewide divisions would suggest. The impact was seen in 2016 in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by less than 1 percent, but these state legislatures and congressional delegations remained two-thirds Republican. Segregating voters, or gerrymandering, was the cause.

In North Carolina, race and party overlap, with non-whites overwhelmingly voting for Democrats and whites overwhelmingly voting Republican. Last year, a federal district court ruled the state GOP made two congressional districts overly Democratic in 2011 by illegally packing blacks into them while bleaching surrounding districts to ensure they would be won by Republicans. The state’s then-Republican governor appealed, and the question before the Court was, what was the top motive? Was it partisan greed, which the Court’s conservatives have said is a part of politics and should be left alone, or was it race, which cannot be used under federal law to deprive non-whites of political representation?

Those two silos, party or race, reflected the arguments that came before the Court last December when there were eight members—Justice Neil Gorsuch had not been seated. On Monday, the Court issued a 5-3 opinion, written by Elena Kagan, concluding it was race, which is illegal. The modern Court has never thrown out congressional maps citing race. The ruling was praised by Democrats like former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder and trashed by former George W. Bush administration Republicans like Hans von Spakovsky. The Court’s lone African-American justice, Clarence Thomas, broke with conservatives and agreed with the four liberals.

“A state may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines unless it has a compelling reason. In this case, a three-judge District Court ruled that North Carolina officials violated that bar when they created two districts whose voting-age populations were majority black,” the majority opinion began. “Uncontested evidence in the record shows that the State’s mapmakers… purposely established a racial target: African Americans should make up no less than a majority of the voting age population.”

The Court noted how North Carolina Republicans boasted they were creating districts to empower blacks—a goal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act—when they packed black voters into fewer districts so the GOP could emerge with more House seats. The majority didn’t buy that, saying the state’s blacks had good representation and didn’t need the GOP’s help. They noted the party’s mapmakers were unapologetic about their goals—“to make the map as a whole ‘more favorable to Republican candidates’”—and politely called that line a fraud. Citing the VRA as an excuse to sort voters by race “is the kind of ‘exception’ that goes pretty far toward swallowing the rule,” the majority opinion said.

But Chief Justice John Roberts—who wrote the Court’s 2013 opinion gutting the VRA, saying the country has outgrown racial divisions and no longer need its toughest federal oversight provisions—and oft-moderate Anthony Kennedy joined conservative Samuel Alito’s dissent. They said the majority went hunting and “found a smoking gun” on race.

“The Court below seemed to think that it found a smoking gun,” their dissent read. “The majority focuses almost all its attention on a few references to race by those responsible for the drafting and adoption of the redistricting plan. But the majority reads too much into these references. First, what the plaintiffs had to prove was not simply that race played some role in the redistricting process, but that it was the legislature’s predominant consideration.”

This is where legal distinctions subvert real life. North Carolina’s Republicans have one of the most racially divisive recent histories of any state, with the possible exception of Texas, where lower federal courts have also ruled the GOP drew political lines to dilute Latino political power. Last week, the Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling that threw out five North Carolina voting rules that the judges said were designed with “surgical precision” to suppress black voters, such as requiring state ID cards to get a regular ballot that more whites had and cutting early voting. In that decision, Roberts wrote, “the [Court’s] justices were not endorsing the 4th Circuit’s reasoning.”

Like that comment from Roberts, Alito’s dissent also turns a blind eye to race. This is no accident; it’s how institutional racism endures, allowing discrimination to continue and painting those who challenge it as unhinged. What’s equally remarkable about Alito’s dissent is how he unapologetically describes the GOP coup that occurred after the 2010 Census, which turned purple North Carolina into a red state for this decade. He begins by describing the results of the state’s extreme partisan redistricting.

“In 2010, prior to the adoption of the current plan, Democrats won 7 of the 13 [House] districts, including District 8,” Alito wrote. “But by 2016, Republicans controlled 10 of the 13 districts, including District 8, and all the Republican candidates for House of Representatives won their races with at least 56% of the vote.”

That 56 percent figure is revealing. It’s a metric confirming the GOP identified and packed sufficient numbers of reliable Republican voters into districts to secure more seats. In contrast, in 2016 North Carolina’s Democratic delegation saw Rep. Alma Adams get 67 percent, Rep. David Price get 68 percent and Rep. G.K. Butterfield get 69 percent of the vote. This disparity shows how redistricting sorts voters. Alito’s dissent said this consequence was the political spoil of winning before redrawing lines for a decade. He added the Court has never thrown out districts for naked partisan greed.

“Gerrymandering dates back to the founding [of America], and while some might find it distasteful, our prior decisions have made clear that a jurisdiction may engage in constitutional political gerrymandering, even if it so happens that the most loyal Democrats happen to be black Democrats and even if the state were conscious of that fact,” Alito wrote. “If around 90% of African-American voters cast their ballots for the Democratic candidate, as they have in recent elections, a plan that packs Democratic voters will look very much like a plan that packs African-Americans voters.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling, in which its majority drew a line against the illegal use of race instead of the legal excuse of partisan greed, shows how a more left-leaning Court might have behaved if Obama had succeeded in seating his final nominee, Merrick Garland. Instead it is an open question where the Court will go when it next visits gerrymandering.

Its next big redistricting case is from Wisconsin and will be heard in the term starting in October. That case doesn’t involve race; just a partisan power play. As Alito’s defense implies, the Court’s conservatives have no problem with that. The only possible big case involving racial discrimination would come from Texas, where a lower federal court in March said race was illegally used to draw political lines. Texas Republicans have yet to appeal that ruling in a case that has gone on for years.

In the meantime, the Court’s newest member, Neil Gorsuch, is expected to be a firm conservative vote on redistricting, whether the question is party or race. That means Monday’s ruling could be a temporary liberal blip on the screen while the big picture is heading toward the political right. But for now, more than a half-dozen years after Republicans in North Carolina brazenly grabbed more state and federal power, the prospect of that state emerging as politically purple is more tangible.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

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11 responses to “SCOTUS Ruling On North Carolina’s Illegal Political Maps Exposes GOP’s Extreme Partisan Gerrymandering Based On Race”

  1. plc97477 says:

    Thank you Obama.

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  2. Just A Citizen says:

    ONce again SCOTUS falls into the Pig Sty.

    So you left leaning editorialists, if this was all about race and putting down the black man, please tell us how many “representatives” would have won if the lines were not drawn as they were?

    Now, how many Democrats.

    Oh, wait. You mean this is really about getting Democrats elected and not having Black People ACTUALLY represented?

    This BS argument of racial intent is carried by the Dems for only one reason. They ASSUME that the vast majority of Black People will vote Democratic Party tickets. They thus hope to draw the lines themselves in a way that combining white leftists and black people will form a majority for them.

    It never seems to occur to anyone that districts have to have pretty similar populations. And if there are enough republicans to hold a majority in 2/3 of the districts there has to be about 2/3 of the population who are Republican.

    Maybe that is how districting should be done. By party affiliation. No actual geographical boundaries. Just allocate the number of seats per the voter registration at the time of re-districting.

    • Dear so-called citizen,
      Once again, you’ve chosen to spray your post with the noisome urine of an obsession with political partisanship. The theme you keep repeating which accentuate the divide between Americans along partisan lines is a major contributor of what ails the nation.
      The obsession you have to loudly proclaim your devotion to a particular leaning has erased all traces of objectivity on your part. Some day, maybe, you’ll learn to post more objectively, by focusing on the core problems pointed out in the articles rather than zero in on which Party you feel most aggrieved by despite the tenor of the article.
      With your approach, you are more a contributor to the problem than a source of inspiration. If you can somehow find the wisdom to attack the root cause rather than symptoms, or avoid painting every story in terms of which party you loudly want us to know you favor, then you will have graduated to the level of maturity on the issues rather than stay mired in the adolescence of subjective expressions.

      It’s far more cool to rationally and in a cool manner express one’s opinions than yammer like a yo-yo school boy, as expressed in a scene in “Westside Story”.

      • Just A Citizen says:

        Aaron

        Don’t blame me for identifying a rattlesnake when I see one. So typical of you phony socialist leftists. Trying to hijack the language now you are going to tell us what kind of conversation is allowed.

        Heaven forbid we humans accurately describe the real world. No, better we pretend it is all fake or created by some third hand. I’ll bet your one of those making fun of people for talking about the “Deep State”. While trying to tell us we are being manipulated into thinking we are divided.

        Well I got news for you dippy. We are divided. And you are not on my side.

        You spout lots of words and say nothing. Mush and garble.

        • Dapper Dan says:

          More ramblings from the low information uneducated citizens who rant and rave because they got called out by SCOTUS for rigging the elections to favor Republicans. Your a lonely isolated voice in the wilderness and the only person spouting mush and garble is you ????

          • Just A Citizen says:

            Dapper

            Gerrymandering is done by which ever party is in power when the Census is completed. The issue here is how race is used and whether the NC case was brought because it actually harmed blacks or was it because it harmed Democrats.

            My comment was not raving. It pointed out the reality that boundaries drawn irrespective of race would almost certainly leave out minorities in representation. Because they are a minority.

            And that the only way for a majority of seats to be held by one party means that there is a majority of that party in the State.

            Concentrating populations of one group within a district actually increases representation for all groups. As long as deliberate dilution is not carried out to prevent a minority concentration.

            Democrats want the districts diluted because they think that the minority black vote combined with the Democrat white vote will give them a greater majority of seats.

            Neither you nor Aaron address the issues. Just attack the messenger with accusations of being stupid and confused. Very typical of ya’ll.

          • johninPCFL says:

            What the article pointed out was that the Democrat representation fell from seven districts to three, and that the primary vehicle allowing that packing to be performed was the race of the people being packed: “based…on a few references to race by those responsible for the drafting and adoption of the redistricting plan.”

            You are correct, the GOP could legally have used voting records as a means to pack the districts, but they took a shortcut and used skin color to define the boundaries.

          • Just A Citizen says:

            john

            So you agree with my point. Thank you.

  3. The article points out a tactic that has been used since Blacks were finally granted the right to vote. Unlike our friend, “Just A Citizen”, I wish to comment not as much on the Party which has since modern American political affairs striven hard to make voting nary impossible for so many black folks—but to address a tactic openly engaged in in order to maintain an imbalance in society along lines of skin color.

    Even as we read the article, the GOP has been studiously manipulating the outlines of districts with an alacrity that borders on insane, in order to either maintain or regain political ascendancy. I say this not to cast the Left Wing as an angelic entity, but simply to point out the obvious—that the GOP has been rebuffed numerous times so far in trying to manipulate the electoral map of America, yet they keep trying to manipulate the balloting process specifically in their favor.

    This is an obsession that will go on fro quite some time into the future, because of this zero-sum game the GOP is constantly waging. Were there evidence that the Left Wing were doing the same, I would be rebuking them as well. It’s time for partisanship to be buried 6 feet under.

  4. And despite the GOP’s obvious agenda to limit the participation of black folks in the voting process, Uncle Ben Carson continues to grin with delight. He is quite content with being portrayed as some modern-day porch jockey, and a mascot for a Party which for decades has striven with alacrity to deny a segment of American society the right to vote, or to manipulate the strength of their ballots.

    Were Ben’s mother alive, he would quite likely make her ability to voter as difficult as possible, in order to please his masters. Such is the destructive allure of the Dark Force of a Party content with keeping the country divided along the lines of skin color.

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