What Does The Gerrymandering Ruling Mean? A Lot (Especially For WNC)

Jan 10, 2018

Tuesday’s ruling by federal judges that North Carolina’s Congressional district maps are illegal could have wide ranging implications for politics at the local, state and national level.  The court ruled the maps were illegal because they were gerrymandered specifically to benefit Republicans – the first time a court cited partisanship as a reason to throw out Congressional maps created through redistricting.  The city of Asheville saw the biggest change during the redistricting the court just rejected.  The new lines cut the city from one district into two – leading it from being represented by Democrat Heath Shuler to Republicans Mark Meadows and Patrick McHenry.  Western Carolina University political science professor Dr. Chris Cooper expects that to change whenever new lines are drawn.  “Almost no matter how they redraw those lines, they going to take most likely some Republicans out of the 11th Congressional district, Mark Meadows district.  So it’s fair to assume that if this holds, and if we get new lines, Mark Meadows will have a tougher battle in 2018.”

When new lines get drawn is up in the air, as this week’s court ruling sought to have them done by the end of this month.  But North Carolina Republican leaders are seeking a delay on that until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on similar gerrymandering cases before justices, one from Wisconsin and another from Maryland.  These cases underscore the 'bipartisanship' of gerrymandering - as Republicans are alleged to have benefited from it in Wisconsin, while it's Democrats who are accused of using to their aid in Maryland.  

The reason this ruling is so unique according to Dr. Chris Cooper because it’s the first time partisanship was specifically cited by a court as the reason gerrymandering was considered illegal.  “The Republicans did not hide the ball on this.  They were pretty clear – ‘we drew these maps to benefit Republicans.’  And at the time they did it (2011) the court had been pretty consistent that that was okay.  The court hadn’t ruled that gerrymandering based on partisanship was a bad thing.”  The ruling could set a new standard or precedent if other courts adopt it in future rulings regarding gerrymandering, something Cooper says is entirely possible.  "I think this is the policy window for gerrymandering in the country.  We've had these conversations for a long time, we've been gerrymandering for well over 100 years.  And this seems to be the time when the court is probably going to weigh in and decide - not once and for all but once for the next little bit - whether you are allowed to draw lines to benefit one party or the other."