HILL: ‘Good’ redistricting versus ‘bad’ gerrymandering 

A portrait of Gov. Elbridge Gerry hangs in a hallway at the Statehouse in Boston, Thursday, March 20, 2014. In 1812, the practice of Gerrymandering got its name from Gov. Gerry when he signed a bill passed in the Massachusetts legislature to redraw state Senate district map.(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Redistricting is a necessary function of our democratic republic. Gerrymandering is a perversion of a critical self-governance function which distorts the concept of free and fair elections. 

Massachusetts Gov. Eldridge Gerry, the progenitor of the practice in 1812, must be rolling in his grave to this day. 

Liberal Democrats today have taken it a step further. They level charges of “egregious gerrymandering” any time a Republican legislature draws maps and cry out “racism” as they run to the courts to do what they couldn’t do in elections ― win majorities so they could draw the maps instead. 

This has little to do with racial equity any longer. It has everything to do with gaining political power. 

Democrats don’t hate the concept of “gerrymandering” per se. Deep blue Democrat states such as Maryland and Illinois have truly mind-bending Escher-esque maps which protect incumbent Democrats while eliminating as many Republicans as possible. 

Democrats only “hate” the idea of Republicans having the same power to produce favorable political districts in red states to the degree Democrats have mastered in blue states. If Democrats really hated gerrymandering as a principle, Common Cause, the ACLU and every liberal organization in the nation would file identical lawsuits in 43 states regardless of political control (seven states are represented by one representative in Congress) 

Don’t buy their crocodile tears. As soon as Democrats ever regain control of the North Carolina General Assembly, they will try to hammer as many Republicans into political oblivion as they did for over a century from 1898 to 2010. 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in Moore v. Harper, a case which will decide whether state courts nationwide have any right at all to draw and redraw congressional and legislative districts or whether it remains 100% in the purview of elected representatives in the state legislature. 

The framers of the Constitution were clear about who should draw legislative districts ― state legislatures would have the sole prerogative to draw new congressional and legislative districts after each decennial census. Not state nor federal judge,s and most certainly not any unelected judges or independent commissions, all of which defeat the purpose of having a democratic republic based on self-governance and democratic involvement in the first place. 

They prioritized the status of the legislative branch in Article I; they gave appointment powers to state legislatures for choosing U.S. senators and they gave specific powers to states about deciding how and when to conduct their own elections in Section 4 of Article I: 

“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” 

Congress has a role in “making” or “altering” such regulations, such as by passing the Voting Rights Acts to make sure black Americans have equal access to the ballot box and representation. But the final decision still comes down to state legislatures to draw and pass new districts which comply with such directives, not the courts. 

Courts were set up to call constitutional balls and strikes, much like an umpire in baseball. They can and should rule on whether maps pass constitutional muster and comply with legislative acts such as the Voting Rights Act. But that is it. They should have absolutely no role in actually drawing the maps or appointing a special master to draw maps and force any legislature to pass them. 

Legislative and congressional maps should be drawn so one elected person can adequately represent the interests of the whole district at large. Drawing distorted maps worthy of hanging next to Picasso’s “Guernica” defeats the whole purpose of electing effective representatives in the first place.  

Districts should be drawn on generally accepted principles of compactness; contiguity; preservation of counties and other political subdivisions; preservation of communities of interest and preservation of cores of prior districts. Big city bankers don’t talk the talk of a rural farmer and vice versa. No person can represent such disparate interests well in crazy gerrymandered districts ― do they serve on the banking or the agriculture committee and give the bulk of their time and energy to either or half as much to both? 

Repeated redrawing of maps alienates constituents from their elected representatives. People used to know L.H. Fountain was their congressman in NC-2 for decades simply because the district didn’t change very much decade to decade. Nowadays, many North Carolinians have no idea who their congressional representative is unless they google it. 

It is time to stop the political gamesmanship of redistricting and end the machinations of overtly political campaign lawyers such as Marc Elias. Draw fair, compact maps and let the political chips fall where they may. If the voters don’t like the maps, then the opposition can work to defeat incumbents in the next election. 

That is the way our democratic republican system was set up to work. Not determined by the courts.