In a stunning defeat for what one judge called “gerrymandering on steroids,” a three-judge federal court has ruled that the Republican gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional districts in 2011 was unconstitutional on grounds that it was racially driven and illegally packed too many black voters into two districts. The court gave the legislature just two weeks to fix the problem.
This decision is a striking echo of the rising call for political reforms from presidential candidates and popular movements across the country. It has already emboldened North Carolina reformers to push for more sweeping reforms. And if upheld, it could have a ripple effect in Virginia, Texas and Alabama, where similar lawsuits challenge so-called racial gerrymandering by Republican-led legislatures.
Cynics will argue that partisan manipulation of political district lines is an age-old, well-entrenched game in American politics. True, but the tide is turning. Gerrymandering is under fire from lawsuits and popular reform movements in 21 of our 50 states.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court demolished the most serious legal resistance to gerrymander reform by blessing a popular referendum in Arizona that took the mapping of political districts away from the state legislature and turned it over to an independent commission. In July, the Florida Supreme Court threw out that state’s GOP partisan gerrymander and ordered eight congressional districts redrawn. Already, that ruling is reshaping this year’s congressional races.
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