Gerrymandering Case Certainly Headed to State Supreme Court


August 8, 2019 3:00PM
Cash Michaels
Cash Michaels

Today, August 7th, written concluding closing summary briefs were due from both sides in the controversial Common Cause v. Lewis partisan gerrymandering case by the three-judge panel which heard two weeks of testimony recently.

A court decision may be evident in weeks, or maybe even months. Plaintiffs are hopeful a decision comes in time so that if it’s a favorable decision, there’s time to redraw the voting districts for the 2020 legislative elections.

But what is more likely; legal and political observers agree, is that the court decision will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, which will render the final decision.

Whether that will occur in time for the 2020 elections…no one knows. But the implications are stark. Whoever wins the decision may be able to control who wins the 2020 legislative elections, and with them, the right to redraw the voting districts that will govern the next decade for the state House, state Senate, and the 13 congressional districts.

Democrats could retake the NC General Assembly for the first time since 2011, and keep it through 2030.

But again, only if the majority Democrat state rules that North Carolina Republican legislative leaders violated the North Carolina Constitution when they had a voting map drawn that was based on “extreme” partisan gerrymandering.

State Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), chair of the House Redistricting Committee, was sued by Common Cause NC, the nonpartisan redistricting reform organization, and the NC Democratic Party, both of which claimed that the Republican-led NC General Assembly’s 2016 redistricting maps violated North Carolina’s Constitution because the voting districts were deliberately drawn to deny Democrats any opportunity to ever win back the majority in either the state House or Senate.

The trial - which featured some of the now infamous Thomas Hofeller files of the now deceased Republican redistricting mapmaker who previously drew several racially-gerrymandered voting districts ultimately struck down by the federal courts - was highlighted by false testimony by a witness for the Republican defendants, testimony that was ultimately thrown out of court.

That witness was supposed to disprove claims by the Common Cause attorneys and witnesses that the GOP maps drawn by Hofeller violated the state Constitution. Republican lawyers claimed that Democrats basically lost in the 2018 elections in several districts because they just had lousy candidates, not rigged maps.

Furthermore, the Republican attorneys claimed, the courts really have no say in the matter, because in the political process, the voters decide.

Plaintiffs, however, argued that for voters to fairly decide, the rules governing elections must be fair. When those rules, in the form of redrawn voting districts that assure one party an absolute certainty of victory over the other, then the rules have been skewed, thus violating the rights of voters of the other party to ever have representation of their choice.

Because the state Supreme Court is six Democrats and one Republican - a Republican justice who has already taken his Democrat colleagues publicly to task for allegedly being “AOC” liberals - it is generally assumed that the majority will side with Common Cause and the NC Democratic Party.

“At least three of the Democratic-backed judges on the State Supreme Court would have to join the lone Republican-backed colleague in declining to overturn the state’s legislative maps, and I don’t see where those three votes would come from among the six Democratic-backed judges on the court,” Wake Forest University Politics and International Affairs Professor John Dinan told Carolina Journal recently.

At the same token, if the state High Court, led by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, does come down against the Republican leaders, because several of them are also up for reelection in 2020, they will have to ensure that their legal decision is wholly legally sound and justified, given that the GOP would be sitting in wait to make political hay out of it if they lose.

Again, the three-judge panel has not made its decision yet, but when it comes, expect it to be immediately appealed to the NC Supreme Court for the ultimate decision.