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Other Voices: Usurping the people’s vote

There was the thought of leaping onto a desk and screaming “you tell ’em” when a three-judge federal panel delivered a stern comeuppance for lawyers representing the General Assembly in the ongoing congressional redistricting case.

In their order last week to stay action of their ruling last month to overturn the state’s congressional map, Judge James Wynn Jr. of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judges Earl Britt and William Osteen Jr. took appropriate umbrage with those lawyers’ suggestion that the courts were trying to “sway” the election to favor Democrats.

Their words: “The only party to these proceedings that has sought ‘to sway election results … for one set of candidates’ is the North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican majority.”

Let’s set the history of this long and winding process. In 2010, Republicans took control of the General Assembly. In 2011, their first redistricting maps positioned 10 of the state’s 13 districts to have uncompetitive GOP majorities.

In 2015, a suit proved those maps were drawn illegally along racial lines, a ruling supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the districts were redrawn in time for the 2016 election. That’s when Ted Budd (R-Advance) won from among 21 candidates in the vacant 13th District. The GOP still led, 10-3.

Meanwhile, a second suit filed in 2016 proved those new districts had been gerrymandered along partisan lines — you remember the quotes to that effect from the maps’ architects — and were unconstitutional. After a volley with the Supreme Court about the standing of the plaintiffs, the panel in August ordered the districts to be redrawn. Out of fairness the panel delayed enacting that order until after November.

That’s what led to the ruling on Sept. 12, when the panel suggested a passage in a brief filed to appeal this latest ruling to the Supreme Court was out of order. As Taft Wireback reported, Raleigh lawyers Phillip Strach and Michael McKnight wrote on Aug. 31 very familiar words: “unelected federal judges usurping the role of the state’s elected representatives by taking the unprecedented step of enjoining a congressional plan two months before a general election under a legal theory that has never been accepted by the Supreme Court.”

If you listen closely, you might hear the crack of a firmly struck gavel. All three judges took affront to those words, and their response is absolutely dead on: “On the contrary, the guiding principle of this court’s opinion and judgment is that the Constitution bars the government — whether the legislature, the executive or the judiciary, and whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats — from ‘swaying’ an election in favor of one set of candidates. That the judges on this court and the remainder of the federal judiciary are ‘unelected’ in no way undermines the authority of the federal judiciary to act in its constitutionally-defined sphere.”

We could not agree more. Lawmakers and judges should have no say-so in how elections are decided. Voters should. In North Carolina, this has become a joke. It’s far beyond time that there is a national referendum for non-partisan districts that are drawn equally for everyone who casts a vote. America’s democracy is set apart from the rest of the world by the integrity of our elections. Let’s reinforce that founding principle once and for all.

— Greensboro News & Record

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