North Carolina Democrats have already lost the first skirmish in the next round of redistricting wars, as a federal judge rejected an urgent call to block new state Senate districts from going into place before the start of candidate filing in early December.
US District Judge James Dever labeled the proposed timeline “meritless,” in a scathing order citing the nearly one-month delay from the time the districts were passed to the suit was filed.
The single lawsuit would have minimal impact even if successful, perhaps gaining one seat for the Democrats, possibly not even blocking a GOP supermajority in the state Senate.
While other lawsuits challenging state House and congressional maps are expected, their delay in filing is noticeable.
Veteran NC political reporter Colin Campbell tweeted:
“I’m again very confused as to why redistricting lawsuits weren’t filed earlier (and there’s still no lawsuit challenging new congressional lines). Typically lawsuits get filed as soon as the bills are finalized.”
Perhaps the delay is because, despite winning some redistricting lawsuits over the last decade, Democrats have sued themselves into a corner.
Democrats won federal racial gerrymandering claims on the congressional and legislative districts. Those suits helped Democrats pick up a few seats they would not have had, but over the arc of several election cycles they made little policy or political difference.
Former chief of staff for NC Senate Leader Phil Berger and current leading GOP consultant Jim Blaine, who was intimately involved in redistricting over the last decade, says Democrats made their situation worse, even when they had temporary victories.
Blaine summarized the situation, saying Democrats sued over Republicans drawing too many largely black districts and are now suing Republicans for not creating enough districts with high-black populations. He also said they failed in their lawsuits on the state federal levels to end partisan gerrymandering.
Blaine argues that at the end of the day, “The courts have said you can’t use race to draw maps. The courts have said there is no racially polarized voting in the state. As a result of their own lawsuits, Democrats have lost the ability to draw VRA [Voting Rights Act] districts. The results of their lawsuits have wiped out black Democrats in rural North Carolina from the legislature.”
“The practical impact of all the Democrats’ litigation is partisan gerrymandering is not only kosher, it has been unleashed in North Carolina and federally. Plus there is no legal ability to draw 50% black districts in North Carolina because Democrats at the time thought it was beneficial to their party at the time. Now they have gotten themselves into this ditch they can’t get out of. “
Blaine argues when Republicans first drew districts in 2011, they lacked confidence, ability and foresight. He contends that had Democrats simply accepted the districts as drawn, Democrats would have captured, or been close to capturing, majorities in the state legislature and the congressional delegation. However, even when Democrats won, Republicans were constantly able to adjust maps to changing circumstances and political trends, with increased knowledge and ability to draw better.
“Through their litigation, Democrats have basically cut their legs out from under them,” Blaine said. “It is one of the more ironic things I have seen in NC politics.”
Blaine’s general sentiments are echoed by staff with Carolina Journal and its parent non-profit, John Locke Foundation.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst, told PBS North Carolina’s “State Lines” that all of the upcoming racial gerrymandering lawsuits filed by Democrats suffer the same potentially fatal flaw: Democrats want the courts to mandate the drawing of majority-minority districts after winning a lawsuit blocking them before.
“If a federal judge or the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with the plaintiffs [Democrats], they are basically going to have to throw out what they previously said about the drawing of the election maps.”
Jim Blaine’s original interview on this subject was conducted by veteran Spectrum 14 NC political reporter Tim Boyum, on his “Tying it Together” Podcast. (10-25-23) Further interviews were conducted for Carolina Journal.