In 2013, Democratic activists filed their first lawsuits against the maps drawn by Republicans. That began an endless parade of litigation, with arguments changing at every iteration but the end goal remaining the same: to persuade a court to draw new maps that favor Democrats.
Having successfully litigated against the Democratic majority under a racial gerrymander claim a decade before, legislative Republicans understood well the power of lawsuits to dismantle preferred maps. And so we set out to avoid losing the same sorts of racial gerrymander lawsuits as defendants that we had won years earlier as plaintiffs.
According to federal Judge Roger Gregory, we actually tried too hard.
The Voting Rights Act prescribes a remedy for states where the preferred candidates of minority voters cannot win because non-minority voters overwhelmingly choose a different candidate. The remedy is to draw electoral districts with more minority voters than non-minority voters—“majority-minority” districts.
So that’s what we did. We drew majority-minority districts, all but ensuring that minority-preferred candidates would win those seats. Why? Because that’s what the Voting Rights Act required.
Read: The Supreme Court finds North Carolina’s racial gerrymandering unconstitutional
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that interpretation just two years before we drew the maps. “Only when a geographically compact group of minority voters could form a majority in a single-member district” has the Court’s criteria been met, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. We also precleared our maps with the U.S. Department of Justice, led at the time by Eric Holder, which approved them.
But we still lost the case. That’s because Judge Gregory reasoned that, despite the evidence we produced, racially polarized voting in North Carolina wasn’t bad enough to require the majority-minority districts that we drew. Indeed, a judge from the same court wrote, “I find nothing flagrant or nefarious as to the legislature’s efforts here.”
But the court also wrote that the maps would have been acceptable if “politics, not race, was the driving factor.” It ruled the maps unconstitutional only because “the Court is not persuaded that the redistricting was purely a politically driven affair.”
Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have long held that political considerations are fair game, and maps produced on the basis of those considerations are perfectly legal.
Having just been faulted by a federal court for unnecessarily using racial data, and instructed by that court and others that political considerations are just fine, we set out to make it clear to the world that we relied on traditional criteria, including politics—not race—when redrawing the maps at Gregory’s order. Direct court instruction and the law told us that doing so would end the matter.