I live in the Triangle Region of North Carolina, just down the road from the State Capital and all the government buildings in Raleigh. I’m deeming the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling, released on Friday as the biggest political story of the week just ended. While shockingly significant its not so much just this lone ruling but what it illustrates.
Friday the newly Republican controlled court -and make no mistake this was politically motivated! – overturned its own ruling of the past session and declared that the state legislature can do anything it wants in redistricting. This is the embodiment of the Independent State Legislature Theory which basically says that the state legislature has complete control over certain processes, including redistricting, and is not accountable to anyone nor does anyone or any entity have oversight.
Taking politics out of it for one paragraph, what markets hate the most is uncertainty. What creates uncertainty more than constant change based on who won the last election?
Let’s look at North Carolina in particular. As are 48 of the other states, North Carolina is bicameral. I’m willing to bet that, as in most other states, the majority of randomly selected North Carolinians can’t correctly identify who their State Representative and State Senator are. Regardless of this ruling, in North Carolina the General Assembly redistricts both federal (House of Representatives) and state electoral districts. You have that correct, they set their own districts. Talk about politicians selecting their voters not voters selecting their representatives. That is literally the case in North Carolina. (Every state varies a bit but something similar to that is commonplace.) Is that representative democracy?
North Carolina currently has a Republican super majority in both chambers of its General Assembly. It happens to have a twice elected Democratic Governor but he is not involved in the redistricting process. Now the state Supreme Court has ruled that it has no jurisdiction over redistricting. With a super majority in both chambers a small group of people are totally unchecked in this process. Don’t we desire a system of checks and balances in America any longer?
I am far from alone in saying that the most anticipated Supreme Court ruling this year is the one in Moore v Harper (which came out of North Carolina). The basis of that case is that the plaintiff is claiming that the Independent State Legislature Theory is in fact constitutional law. This reversal ruling gives the Court several options, none of which I like. They can simply accept a withdrawal from the plaintiffs who no longer need a ruling. They can affirm the new ruling. They can declare the case now moot letting the reversal ruling stand. They can establish the Independent State Legislature Theory as law and make it applicable in all 50 states. None of these options stifle gerrymandering in fact they make it the law of the land.
In the case I’m citing the control of the North Carolina Supreme Court swung to the Republicans in the 2022 election (new justices taking their seats in January of 2023). 2022 was the first election (at least in recent memory) where North Carolina judicial candidates were identified by party on the ballot. That made it easier for low information Republican leaning voters to fall in line with the party and that appears to be exactly what happened. North Carolina is one of several truly purple states where the statewide vote is pretty close to 50-50. Yet legislative representation is heavily skewed to the Republicans. It doesn’t take an ace statistician or Harvard MBA to figure of why? In the past I had often spent in excess of an hour researching judicial candidates. How many core Republican voters did that?
Democrats and not harmless. For too long too many of us have not given judicial races their deserved attention. At the organizational level judicial races are often covered only after supposedly more important races have been given resources. At the individual level too many simply ignored the down ballot races often failing to literally flip the ballot over.
Believe me, I could go on but you have other things to do today. I’m not the first and I’m certain I won’t be the last to recognize this fact but the sad reality in America today is that the only thing that can save American democracy is the voters.
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