This week, a three-judge panel in North Carolina voted to preserve the 2011 GOP-drawn redistricting plans that civil rights and voter groups say are racially gerrymandered.
“It is the ultimate holding of this trial court that the redistricting plans enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 must be upheld and that the Enacted Plans do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina as those rights are defined by law,” reads the judges’ ruling.
What does this mean for voters of color and citizens of North Carolina?
Well, challenging the redistricting plans was already a tough deal to begin with. Republicans drew the post-2010 Census lines to their advantage, giving themselves a 9-4 congressional district edge, up from the 7-6 split with Democrats before. They also placed roughly 27 percent of African-American voters in newly split state House precincts, compared to just 16.6 percent of white voters. There was similar disproportional segregation of black voters in the new congressional and state Senate districts. But Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice precleared the plans, more than once, when counties were still subjected to the Voting Rights Act.
The Act, dealt a blow last month when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the formula determining which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, did provide for “minority-majority” districts to ensure that voters of color were able to elect candidates of their choice. As numerical minorities in the state, people of color could never elect their own candidate for a statewide office like governor on their votes alone. But with the VRA “minority-majority” protections, they could still influence statewide policy through ensured proportional representation in the legislature and Congress.
Voters in North Carolina had been forming cross-racial coalitions, the results of which were seen last November in the 51 percent of votes that went to Democratic Party congressional candidates despite the gerrymandering (a judge ruled that the GOP map could be used for last year’s elections).