Over two days last week, we got a sense of how seriously the North Carolina General Assembly was taking a federal court’s order to redraw its legislative districts in a fair and not-racially-gerrymandered manner (not really) and how the federal court felt about the legislature’s recalcitrance (not thrilled).
First, in a meeting Wednesday of the legislature’s joint committee on redistricting, Representative David Lewis, the committee’s Republican cochairman, said he hoped to have the process wrapped up by mid-November (no rush). And the committee’s Republicans also announced that they were once again bringing in a GOP consultant named Tom Hofeller to help them, just as they did in 2011, when they drew the unconstitutional maps.
The next day in Greensboro, U.S. District Court Judge James Wynn scolded lawmakers for their foot-dragging.
“We want the legislature to do its job,” he said. “We are in the remedy phase now.”
Wynn is part of the three-judge panel that ordered the legislature to draw new districts and hold special elections. The plaintiffs in that case asked for a two-week timeline for redistricting, not the months-long process the legislature wants. The legislature’s attorneys also argued that holding a special election before November 2018 would be expensive, confusing for voters, and wasteful, since turnout would be low.
Edwin Speas, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, suggested that “the state legislature may be the most illegally constituted body in the United States.”
Late Monday, the judges opted against ordering a special election; they did, however, order the legislature to create new districts no later than September 1, which will give Democrats a few extra months to begin recruiting candidates and raising money.
And depending on how they’re drawn, those new districts could have a huge impact on the state. Democrats need just three seats in the state House and six in the Senate to break the Republican supermajorities in those chambers; if that happens, Governor Cooper’s veto pen will have some muscle.
Then again, Republicans are under no obligation to help Democrats; indeed, while racial gerrymandering is unconstutional, partisan gerrymanderingat least for the time being, as the Supreme Court is set to hear a case on the matter this fallis not.