TAR HEEL VIEW: Independent panel needed to draw new district maps

The General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, has a little less than two weeks to redraw maps that are used to elect U.S. House of Representatives members so that they can be ready in time to be used for this year’s election.

That was the demand made on Tuesday by a three-judge panel that unanimously found that the maps were drawn to give Republicans an advantage on Election Day, which critics of the maps say explains why North Carolina, which is essentially a purple state, has 10 Republicans in the U.S. House and just three Democrats.

Judge James A. Wynn, in writing the court’s 191-page opinion, didn’t pull punches, saying the maps were “motivated by partisan invidious intent” and violated the 14th Amendment, which provides Americans with equal protections. It’s noteworthy that the panel included W. Earl Britt, a Robeson County native who practiced law in Fairmont and Lumberton and is an appointee of President Jimmy Carter.

The maps that were found to be unconstitutional were actually version 2.0, the product of a 2016 court decision that found maps drawn in 2011 were also at odds with the U.S. Constitution. Essentially what the Republicans have done is to stuff a lot of black voters into a single district, and while that enhances the chances of a black being elected in that district, it weakens the black vote in neighboring districts, making it more likely that a Republican will be elected there. It is why the maps look like the creation of a 4-year-old who has been given a blank canvas and finger paint.

The accusation of gerrymandering is bolstered by this confession from Rep. David Lewis, who led the effort in 2016 to draw the maps: “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

It is likely that the Republicans will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court in an attempt to kick this ball past the upcoming elections to try to preserve or add to their majority.

The court has ordered the new maps be drawn by Jan. 24, in advance of filing for the U.S. House, which begins on Feb. 12. The primary is May 8.

At the same time, the court has ordered an alternative map that could be used if the Republicans once again come up with something that is illegal.

That sound like a good idea.

But a better plan, one that could spare this state from this kind of silliness every now and again, would be — as has been suggested — to create an independent and bipartisan commission to oversee the job of drawing all districts for elected office, federal and state. Yes, the Republicans can invoke the Democrats-did-it-too defense, which helped them control the General Assembly for a century, but what happened then matters little now.

In fact, that is an argument in favor of the independent commission — evidence that politicians are unlikely to act in any way other then their own best interest or their party’s.

The problem with gerrymandering is that stacking the deck gives more power to one person’s vote, which can only be achieved at the expense of another’s. That isn’t the way to run a republic.

The Robesonian