It’s a hat trick, a Triple Crown victory for North Carolina voters today! SCOTUS ruled, per curium, for the third time in as many weeks, that yes, Virginia, the GOP led North Carolina General Assembly, did violate the United States Constitution when it drew state voting district maps in 2011. This somewhat nervous progressive is dumb struck.
If you’d like a great, quick summary of the 7—yes, I said 7—voting rights cases arising out of the North Carolina GOP’s 2011 gerrymander to end all gerrymanders, check out this great post on the Election Law Blog.
Back to today and our unexpected hat trick…
SCOTUS affirmed the lower court decision holding that the NCGA unconstitutionally relied on race in drawing the state’s general assembly voting districts. SCOTUS balked, however, on crafting a remedy. The Court held, correctly in my view, that the lower court is in a better position to determine what remedy makes sense for North Carolinians. It did, however, provide the legal standard for determining when a special election is required to remedy unconstitutional gerrymandering (citations omitted):
Relief in redistricting cases is “‘fashioned in the light of well-known principles of equity.’” A district court therefore must undertake an “equitable weighing process” to select a fitting remedy for the legal violations it has identified, NAACP v. Hampton County Election Comm’n, taking account of “‘what is necessary, what is fair, and what is workable.” And in the context of deciding whether to truncate existing legislators’ terms and order a special election, there is much for a court to weigh. Although this Court has never addressed whether or when a special election may be a proper remedy for a racial gerrymander, obvious considerations include the severity and nature of the particular constitutional violation, the extent of the likely disruption to the ordinary processes of governance if early elections are imposed, and the need to act with proper judicial restraint when intruding on state sovereignty.
The SCOTUS order leaves open the possibility of North Carolina special elections in 2017. However, in order for special elections to be technically feasible given that it is June 2017 now, the lower court must hold a hearing and make fact findings almost immediately.
I can’t let this moment pass without quoting from a brief filed on behalf of North Carolina voters who were denied constitutionally drawn voting districts that perfectly sums up what the GOP argued to the Court (internal citations omitted):
Finally on the merits, Appellants’ suggestion that the opinion of the court below will have “dire consequences” for minority representation and that they—unlike the court below—have the best interests of minority groups at heart is risible. Every African-American legislator in the legislature in 2011 voted against these districts and groups such as the NAACP and the A. Philip Randolph Institute in the Dickson litigation, and the individual African-American plaintiffs in this case, then mounted challenges to these districts. If the State were truly concerned about minority representation, it would have undertaken [an honest Voting Rights Act] analysis when it engaged in redistricting rather than using the pretext of the Voting Rights Act to racially gerrymander. Appellants’ newfound concern for minority representation rings remarkably hollow.
“Risible” means “laughable.” Whenever a lawyer uses an SAT word, look out for extreme sarcasm. This entire quote is one, giant, lawyer-esque tirade that means “as if.” As in, “Republicans are worried about black voters. As. If.”
My friend Aylett Colston has written an excellent post about how North Carolinians can impact redistricting in North Carolina. Go see her over to Hyperblogic for a great “to do” list.