The decennial ritual of creating new Congressional districts because of the census always devolves into partisan battles, particularly in the thirty-six states that allow the state legislature to draw the new districts. Only seven states – Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington – have laws that require an independent non- or bi-partisan commission for redistricting. Seven states have only a single representative – Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, and don’t go through redistricting for congress, but still redistrict for their state legislatures. There are also nine states that have to have their redistricting maps “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department under Section Act of the Voting Rights Act – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia (except Sandy Springs), Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia (except for fourteen counties). Unfortunately, North Carolina isn’t on any of those lists, though 40 of its 100 counties. Being on those lists doesn’t prevent partisan districting attempts. California and Texas are both guilty of extreme gerrymandering. It’s just easier to gerrymander when a state is not on those lists.
North Carolina had a Democratic legislature ten years ago, and created allegedly Democratic districts. That didn’t prevent the state’s voters from electing a Republican majority this time around. And the Republicans are trying to extract their pound of flesh vengeance for that last district map. The new map virtually eliminates all Democratic-majority districts and ends the tenure of all of North Carolina’s female Congresspersons. The new districts are also written in such a way that there will be no minority-majority districts. Did that sentence make sense? The very convoluted districts split up neighborhoods, towns and counties to achieve ten districts that have a voting majority of white Republicans and three districts that cluster 50% of the states black population. The Supreme Court decision in Bartlett v. Strickland, 556 U. S. 1 (2009), March 9, 2009, pretty much gutted the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that would put North Carolina under pre-clearance status over this new map. The Roberts Court literally ruled that a minority in a voting district has to be a majority for their minority status to be relevant to districting. Gee, and you thought I had a problem with minority/majority language.
In addition to clustering black voters and reducing their impact both in Congress and in the state’s legislature, the new maps eliminate the districts of 40% of the women currently serving in the state’s legislature. About 66% of the women in the North Carolina Assembly are Democrats. Eliminate 40% of them and you reduce the number of Democratic women to less than 40% of the women in the Assembly. That seriously reduces the ability of Democratic women to fight for women’s rights. The attempted cuts are being achieved by a technique called “double bunking.” In a “double bunk” two districts are joined, pitting two incumbents against each other. In the three majority-black districts, there will be black incumbents going against each other and in the female-represented districts, the women will be going against fellow Democrats or against very strong Republican incumbents in newly Republican districts.
The Justice Department pre-cleared the district maps in the 40 counties it has jurisdiction over. That left 60 counties that could be gerrymandered to the Republicans’ hearts’ content.
Voters in North Carolina have filed suit over the new maps. With Bartlett v. Strickland as a legal precedent, it will be very hard for North Carolina’s voters to get any action on these new maps. Women are neither a perceived nor actual minority, even if we are a repressed and oppressed group. We are 50.8% of the American population and the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment means North Carolina’s women cannot sue over the new districts. All they can do is protest, which they are doing with television ads and calls for support from North Carolina’s women. Whether or not Republican women in North Carolina are willing to cross party lines and stand up for women is real iffy.