The federal courts have now ruled some North Carolina state House and Senate districts illegal because of racial gerrymandering.
The courts made the same decision about the congressional districts that resulted in the weird June primary election. This time, at least, the courts said the current election can move forward.
Southern states are in a no-win situation as far as redistricting is concerned.
North Carolina was ordered by the Justice Department to create minority-majority districts to increase the number of black elected officials.
The Democrats were running the state government when this order came down and originally created the infamous 12th Congressional District that stretched from Durham to Charlotte down I-85. Back then, the courts had problems with a district that in some places was only as wide as half an interstate, so it was revised and the new 12th District stretching from Greensboro to Charlotte passed muster for over 20 years until the Republicans were in charge of redistricting.
Director of the federal Housing Finance Agency Mel Watt from Charlotte represented this district from its creation in 1993 to 2014, when he left to take his current job. Then Rep. Alma Adams, formerly from Greensboro, won it. Adams has since followed her district to Charlotte when the recent court ruling found the 12th District unconstitutional and it was redrawn entirely in Mecklenburg County.
So the Justice Department said that to get the districts approved the state had to draw minority-majority districts and now the courts have decided that packing black voters into districts took away their voting rights. The courts decided that drawing districts based on race, which is what the state had been ordered to do, was unconstitutional.
The Republicans who redrew the congressional districts after the 2010 census were told that the minority-majority districts were too heavily minority and had to be redrawn. What the courts didn’t say was what the ideal number of black voters in minority-majority districts was. They said the districts redrawn by the Republicans were overly racially divided so the Republicans were left to guess what percentage of black voters the courts demanded in minority-majority districts.
The courts accused the Republicans of packing the districts with black voters, which is exactly what the Justice Department had required in order to have the districts approved.
There is an easy, commonsense solution to the whole conundrum. It would be far better for the voters, and would bring about a more representative government.
The downside, and what prevents it from happening, is that it would reduce the likelihood of black candidates being elected, which is also considered illegal.
The solution is to ignore race when drawing districts. It has been proven time and time again that whites will vote for a black candidate they believe is qualified and will represent them well. And black voters will vote for a white candidate over a black candidate for the same reason. In Greensboro, District 57 state Rep. Pricey Harrison, who is white, has represented a minority-majority district since the redistricting went into effect in 2012. Oddly, District 57, with a white representative, is one of the districts the court found was too packed with black voters.
The Democratic Party appointed Chris Sgro, a white gay rights activist to represent the district when Rep. Ralph Johnson died in office. So currently Greensboro’s two minority-majority state House districts have white representatives and nobody appears to be upset about it.
The fact that President Barack Obama has been elected president twice in a country where black voters only make up 13 percent of the electorate is the proof most often cited that whites will vote for black candidates. But at the local level we have examples on the Greensboro City Council.
Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson has been elected an at-large city councilmember every time she has run, beginning in 1993. She is now mayor pro tem because she received the most votes in the three-way at-large race. Johnson was also elected mayor in 2007. The only race she has ever lost was her reelection bid for mayor in 2009, which was by all accounts an odd election year, when the voters of Greensboro elected a Republican mayor and four Republican city councilmembers. The current City Council has one Republican, Councilmember Tony Wilkins from District 5.
Also District 3, which had always elected a white Republican to represent it on the City Council, in 2015, elected City Councilmember Justin Outling, a black Democrat, to represent the district.
The voters of South Carolina elected Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican, to represent them in the Senate in 2014, and in 2010 elected Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican of Indian descent.
If districts were redrawn without considering race it probably would lower the number of black elected officials, at least temporarily. But it would result in much more diverse governing bodies.
Currently in the state legislature most of the white elected officials are elected from overwhelmingly white districts; as far as doing what their constituents want they don’t have to worry about the concerns of black constituents because the percentage of black voters in most of their districts is small. The black elected officials are elected from predominantly black districts and don’t have to be concerned about what white constituents want because if every white voter in their district votes against them they still get elected.
Wouldn’t it be a far more representative government if the white elected officials had to be concerned about pleasing black constituents and black elected officials had to be concerned about white constituents?
It would be a better governing body, but to get there the federal government has to decide what it wants. The current situation with the Justice Department demanding minority-majority districts and the federal courts ruling minority-majority districts unconstitutional makes no sense.