Will North Carolina Ever Have A Real Democracy Again?
Democracy in North Carolinastan possibly took another hit today as Chief Justice John Roberts requested a delay in the last minute emergency request by outgoing North Carolina Governor McRory to postpone special elections in the state in 2017 after the current election districts were deemed an illegal racial gerrymander. Roberts requested the delay so that the original appeal of that gerrymandering could be resolved first.
A federal appeals court ruled earlier in 2016 that the state’s legislative districts have been racially gerrymandered since redistricting in 2010. The court ruled that it would be too disruptive and kept the districts in place for the 2016 election. But it ordered the legislature to redraw the districts by March of 2017 in order to hold special elections later this year. North Carolina appealed this decision. Then, after McRory lost the gubernatorial election to Roy Cooper, the state made an emergency request to the Supreme Court to stop the 2017 special elections because that represented “the most extreme and intrusive remedy possible.”. The state also requested that a decision be made before January 11th, which just so happened to be when the new legislature convenes. This was all part of a power play by the outgoing North Carolina legislature to strip power from incoming Governor Cooper.
As I understand it, Roberts request basically delays the state’s emergency request until the regular appeals process is completed. This is not unusual since the state’s request was asking the Supreme Court to intervene before the normal appeals process has allowed the original gerrymandering case has reached the Court. On the other hand, Roberts involvement makes a skeptical guy like me a little suspicious because of his penchant for believing that racism no longer exists in this country and his support for gutting the Voting Rights Act. That decision led to the proliferation of extreme gerrymanders like the ones that exist in North Carolina. It also led to severe voting restrictions like voter ID, reduced polling places, and fewer early voting days. So I’m not too sure that Roberts would uphold the lower court’s ruling that these were illegal racial gerrymanders, despite the overwhelming evidence and virtual admission by those in the legislature that it was designed to be so. In addition, determining this case now at the Supreme Court would end in a 4-4 tie meaning the lower court’s ruling would stand. By delaying this case and allowing the regular appeals process to continue, Roberts gives Trump and the Senate time to confirm a new justice who would presumably join Roberts in thinking their was nothing illegal in these gerrymanders.
Incredible as it may seem, these racial gerrymanders have been in place since 2010. If the districts are not redrawn for either a 2017 special election or the 2018 election, North Carolinians will have virtually gone an entire decade voting in illegal districts that have been designed to help Republicans and disenfranchise Hispanics and African-Americans. Worse, if the Roberts Court overturns the lower court ruling, those racial gerrymanders would all be legal and we would be back to Jim Crow. Such is the state of American democracy these days.