Opinion: Daily Journal

Incoherence on Voting Rights

RALEIGH – It’s getting harder and harder to follow the legal machinations surrounding North Carolina’s new legislative districts.

As noted in yesterday’s Carolina Journal Online, legislative leaders and Attorney Gen. Roy Cooper have “intervened” in a pre-clearance action filed by the North Carolina State Board of Elections in federal district court. The State Board supposedly was seeking to have the latest maps, drawn by Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins and his experts, pre-cleared under the federal Voting Rights Act. The real reason the State Board filed a federal lawsuit – given that Jenkins had already submitted the maps for pre-clearance through the traditional route of the U.S. Justice Department – was to get Democratic objections to the maps into a federal court other than the U.S. Supreme Court, where they are unlikely either to have a hearing or to prevail.

Got that?

Don’t blame me, I’m just trying to explain what happened.

The absurdity is that the Democratic objections to the map, couched in the VRA language of protecting minority voting rights, have little to do with that. Their arguments are self-contradictory and equate the interest of minority voters with the interest of the Democratic Party – which is certainly an argument one can make in the political realm, but that is far-fetched as a legal position.

Let me give you the example of Sen. Bill Martin, a Democratic lawmaker from Greensboro who is leaving to run for the new 13th Congressional District. In an interview with The Carolinian, a Raleigh African-American newspaper, In his published remarks, Martin made the now-familiar criticisms of Judge Jenkins and accused the GOP of “plotting” to take over the state’s judiciary (by which he meant that Republicans had won several recent elections).

Martin then went on to explain how the judge’s districts violated the Voting Rights Act. He noted that Rep. Flossie Boyd-McIntyre of Greensboro was moved out of a majority-black district. (The district still exists, though, so unless Boyd-McIntyre has a personal, federally enforceable right to be elected, this is spurious.) Sen. Martin complained that a majority-black district in Wake County had been changed to reduce the black population to below 50 percent. He followed that point by charging that Jenkins had “packed” black districts by removing significant numbers of black voters from white-majority Democratic districts, thus leaving the latter more competitive for Republicans.

Destroying black-majority districts is “regressive” and contrary to the Voting Rights Act, Martin told The Carolinian, but so is “packing” black districts with more black voters. Basically, according to this reasoning, you can’t reduce the percentage of black voters in a majority-black district and you can’t increase the percentage of black voters, either.

Sounds like Jenkins was damned-if-he-did, damned-if-he-didn’t. This is ludicrous, incoherent – and a last-ditch effort to preserve the 2001 gerrymander.