Law­mak­ers, not judges, should tackle ger­ry­man­der­ing

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY RHODA BILLINGS AND ROBERT ORR – SPE­CIAL TO THE CHAR­LOTTE OB­SERVER

For decades, the ma­jor­ity po­lit­i­cal party in the North Carolina leg­is­la­ture (whether Demo­crat or Re­pub­li­can) has at­tempted to so­lid­ify and ex­pand its rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Congress, as well as in the North Carolina Gen­eral Assem­bly, by draw­ing non-com­pact, oddly shaped, “ger­ry­man­dered” vot­ing dis­tricts, us­ing race and po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion to cre­ate dis­tricts that are fa­vor­able to the ma­jor­ity party. With past U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sions strik­ing down North Carolina’s vot­ing dis­tricts be­cause of racial ger­ry­man­der­ing, and with an im­pend­ing de­ci­sion from that Court on the is­sue of the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of po­lit­i­cal party ger­ry­man­der­ing, North Carolina’s rep­u­ta­tion for fair­ness has suf­fered, both here at home and abroad.

At some point, clear leg­isla­tive ac­tion must re­store fair­ness to our pol­i­tics and make our citizens con­fi­dent that each per­son’s vote counts equally. Lead­ers from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties must work to­gether to solve this prob­lem in our state. We think the time is now, and that is why we are proud to sup­port leg­is­la­tion for a pro­posed state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that puts an end to lengthy, costly re­dis­trict­ing lit­i­ga­tion once and for all.

With the help of the bi­par­ti­san non­profit North Carolini­ans for Re­dis­trict­ing Re­form (NC4RR), the Fair­ness and In­tegrity in Re­dis­trict­ing (FAIR) Act pro­poses a state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that complements cur­rent state and fed­eral re­dis­trict­ing laws by re­quir­ing clear stan­dards to guide the leg­is­la­ture in the draft­ing of state and con­gres­sional vot­ing dis­tricts.

Un­der North Carolina’s cur­rent sys­tem, vot­ing dis­tricts are drawn with the help of po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants and out­side car­tog­ra­phers us­ing so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware de­signed to draw lines us­ing spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about race and po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion to cre­ate vot­ing dis­tricts fa­vor­able to the ma­jor­ity. Dis­tricts are drawn with min­i­mal pub­lic in­put and can­not be ve­toed by the gov­er­nor.

The FAIR Act would elim­i­nate the use of par­ti­san data when draw­ing vot­ing maps, re­quire vot­ing dis­tricts to be con­tigu­ous and com­pact, and bring a set of trans­parency guidelines to the re­dis­trict­ing process. Rules con­tain­ing the nec­es­sary checks to con­trol and guide a just re­dis­trict­ing process would be writ­ten and en­shrined in the North Carolina Con­sti­tu­tion.

The courts play an im­por­tant role in en­forc­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion and en­sur­ing com­pli­ance with re­dis­trict­ing laws, but en­act­ing re­form can­not and should not be the job of the ju­di­ciary.

It is in­cum­bent upon the leg­isla­tive branch to iden­tify weak­nesses in the cur­rent law and ad­dress this prob­lem that has plagued North Carolina for decades. Sim­ply put, the ju­di­ciary can­not, nor should it, do the job of leg­is­la­tors. If the North Carolina Con­sti­tu­tion sets out clear rules for the leg­is­la­ture to fol­low in re­dis­trict­ing, the ju­di­ciary’s job is to en­sure that those rules are fol­lowed by the leg­is­la­ture.

As we ap­proach another decade and re­dis­trict­ing cy­cle based on the 2020 cen­sus, we be­lieve now is the time to end the con­stant ef­forts to win elec­tions by un­fair re­dis­trict­ing pro­cesses. A first step in do­ing so is through ad­vo­cat­ing for bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion to pass leg­is­la­tion for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment cre­at­ing guidelines for fair re­dis­trict­ing that, while en­force­able by the ju­di­ciary, will elim­i­nate the need for ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tion. We ask all North Carolini­ans to join us in ad­vo­cat­ing for a leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion to this long­stand­ing prob­lem.

Billings, a for­mer Chief Jus­tice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Orr, a for­mer As­so­ciate Jus­tice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, are board mem­bers of North Carolini­ans for Re­dis­trict­ing Re­form.

Rhoda Billings

Robert Orr

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