Common Cause v Lewis

S3E19a: Common cause v Lewis the verdict

In our previous blog we discussed Common Cause v Lewis, one of the most important cases for Democrats as 2020 approaches.   

As a brief recap, North Carolina’s Republican Party in 2017 drew district maps in order to ensure they held political power in every election no matter how many votes were casted for the opposing party.  

This episode of American Swap articulates the problem nicely:

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The Democrats appealed to the federal courts sided with them, striking down the 2017 maps.   The Republicans appealed to the US Supreme Court.

This summer the Roberts court famously ruled 5-4 against all cases involving the federal courts and gerrymandering. The chief justice’s shocking ruling states, in part:

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts…”

Common Cause v Lewis

Common Cause v. Lewis ruling

So Democrats and an organization called Common Cause decided to sue in the state courts.  Why?  Because the US Supreme Court appears to be ok with decision made in the state courts, not ones made in the federal courts. 

Hence, Common Cause v Lewis, heard over a month ago, concluding on July 26.    Democrats have been waiting anxiously for a decision and one has finally come down.

It is what the Democrats had hoped:

The ruling on Tuesday by a three-judge panel in Raleigh had the potential to bring to a decisive end a yearslong battle over gerrymandering in a critical swing state and indicated that state courts could act to rein in patently partisan electoral maps after the United States Supreme Court ruled in June, by a 5-to-4 margin, that federal courts could not.

The Republican leader of the State Senate, Phil Berger, cast the decision as part of a national Democratic strategy to overturn Republican rule via the courts, but said the Legislature would not appeal the ruling. The North Carolina Supreme Court, which would hear any appeal, has six Democratic justices and one Republican.

Tuesday’s decision, issued unanimously by two Democratic judges and one Republican, appears to end a legal battle over the legislative maps that already had forced the redrawing of 28 districts found by a federal court to be racial gerrymanders. Since Republicans drew the legislative boundaries eight years ago, in 2011, the party has maintained healthy majorities — and often supermajorities — in both the State House and State Senate, even when Democrats won a majority of the vote statewide.

What happens now?

In the decision, the North Carolina court in Wake County said the Republican maps violate the State Constitution’s clauses guaranteeing free elections, equal protection under the law and freedom of speech and assembly.

“The 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting,”

Ironically, the Court has left it in the hands of Republicans to redraw the maps with a few caveats.  The new maps must be completed in two weeks, it has to be made public and the legislature cannot use data to make a partisan map.

The Court will also supervise the final map to make sure it meets the high quality set in the decision.

A history of gerrymandering

Many looked at North Carolina as ground zero for gerrymandering run amuck.  In the last election Republicans won 50 percent of the popular congressional vote, but 9 out of 12 seats,  went to the GOP.

To illustrate how bad things are in North Carolina, the governor, a democrat, was sworn into office in 2016.   The Republican legislature answered his election with strict voter ID and partisan gerrymandering during the lame duck of his predecessor’s administration.   

Most of those efforts were overturned by the courts.

According to governor Cooper, the desperate attempts by Republicans to hold on to power has had a devastating effect nationwide:

“It has prevented progress in North Carolina on closing the health care gap,” and “I think in Washington it has torpedoed common sense immigration reform.”

Supermajorities in North Carolina’s state legislature overrode 22 of the governor’s vetoes, but the “blue wave” limited the GOP’s ability to do that.

Pennsylvania before and after maps

We’ve been here before

The decision, results and actions taken by the court echo the last successful attempt by Republicans to create political gerrymandered maps.

As posted on this blog before, Pennsylvania Republicans tried the same thing. Democrats were failing to win elections because the state had drawn district maps to ensure, even when Republicans lost, they still maintained power.

Instead of going to the Supreme Court, they fought the battle in state court and won. Like in North Carolina, the Republicans were told to redraw fairier maps.

The newer maps were still a problem so the Court, surprisingly, drew the maps for the legislature. The newer maps were even better for the Democrats then they’d expected.

When the Republicans tried to appeal to the US Supreme Court, the Robert Court refused to get involved. And recent elections using the fairer maps began eroding Republican power in Pennsylvania .

So , the decision in Common Cause v Lewis could be a game changer for Democrats in 2020.   Not only does it eliminate one of the worst partisan gerrymanders, but the decision by Democrats to fight gerrymandering in the state courts have shown to be effective.

What’s Next?

It’s important to note, fighting voter suppression on the state level has been so important to Democrats none other than Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Stacy Abrams have decided to stake their political careers on pushing for free and fair elections on the state level. 

For Holder’s part, he is head of the  National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group committed to addressing the issue of racial and partisan gerrymandering.   Former president Obama joins him in this effort.   

Its important to note Wisconsin’s legislative maps, drawn in 2011, protected Republican supermajorities even after Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, was defeated last year. Republican candidates for the State Assembly won just 46 percent of the popular vote, but they captured 64 percent of the chamber’s seats.

Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, called the results “a beautiful gerrymander” because Republicans were protected even in a bad year for their party.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 24 states, most Republican-led, have introduced restrictions that have made access to voting harder since 2010.

In November, voters in Colorado, Missouri, Michigan and Utah approved changes to limit the role of partisanship in drawing congressional and legislative districts. Ohio passed a similar measure in May.

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