In N.C., the last days of gerrymandering can’t come too soon

In N.C., the last days of gerrymandering can’t come too soon

Today we wait.

We wait for the judges, who retired to their chambers weeks ago in the Common Cause v. Lewis case, a case that asserts political gerrymandering is a betrayal of the “equal protection” provision of the North Carolina constitution.

We wait for a remedy for more than half of the state’s voters who should not feel equally protected today, those who, in 2018, did not vote for the Republican Party but found themselves, against all logic, in thrall to a dominant GOP anyway.

We wait for a decision in what will be, surely, one of the most important judicial rulings of our lifetimes, if not the most important decision in the lifetime of North Carolina’s still nascent democracy.

We wait for a resolution to a gerrymandering case that may, if decided correctly, restore a most basic expectation of our leaders as Americans: the expectation that they will leave.

That they will cede power willingly.

And that they will not, in leaving, so poison the soil so that only their political descendants will flourish.

We wait, not for an end, but for a beginning, a beginning to North Carolina’s post-gerrymandering experiment.

“We have this history of impossible solutions to insoluble problems,” the writer and cartoonist Will Eisner once said, surely not speaking of gerrymandering.

Our leaders would like us to believe that gerrymandering is insoluble, and it’s solution is beyond us, but it is not.

It is within our grasp if we have the dignity to reach for it. Fewer than 20 states have already approved some manner of bipartisan redistricting commission, and another, Pennsylvania, saw state courts act aggressively last year to banish partisan gerrymandering altogether.

North Carolina has the potential to do the same, and if it does, the state, so accustomed to following of late, will have the opportunity to lead instead.

When North Carolina’s three-judge panel completes its reading of the evidence and briefs in the Common Cause case and renders a decision, any day now, we will still have miles to go. This is a case that, almost assuredly, will be decided at the North Carolina Supreme Court, a ruling made all the more crucial by the U.S. Supreme Court’s pedagogical dissembling in June, a retreat so colossal we might well punitively drop the capital letters normally attached to the name of that once august institution.

Gerrymandering, of the racial or partisan variety, is a political malady older than our legislative leaders and their parents and their grandparents.

But too often we suggest that if previous generations, despite their best efforts, failed, we are doomed to fail too.

The supposition has two primary breakdowns: that previous generations gave “their best efforts,” and that their past is our prologue.

Some North Carolina legislative leaders stubbornly hold to such a supposition, but I would submit that the small stable of gerrymandering reforms grazing in legislative pastures — with the blessing of some prominent Republicans — is evidence to the contrary.

Still, the legislature’s window is closing, if it hasn’t already. And our patience is at an end.

“There has been no meaningful opportunity to pass redistricting reform at the General Assembly, and I’ve been at this for 20 years,” Common Cause N.C. chief Bob Phillips told the court last month.

This may very well be the generation that says, for all to hear, damn gerrymandering, and damn the Republicans, damn the Democrats, damn anyone who would angle to preserve it.

Governments that do not yield to the will of voters usually meet the same fate, one way or the other. If they are not broken by elections, they will be broken, and it is not always peacefully.

North Carolina is not, thankfully, on the precipice of violence, but it stands on a cliff anyway.

Gerrymandering is, of course, a danger to our democracy, but it is what gerrymandering sows, a most deplorable lack of faith, that is most dangerous.

And North Carolina, a state that most readily proclaims its faith in God and country and family and so many other things, deserves to have faith in its government too.

If the legislature and the courts of North Carolina do not end this farce, then the people of North Carolina will, one way or another, if it takes tens of thousands on the steps of the Legislative Building or the Capitol.

It is not a party problem. It is a people problem.

Our democracy has always been a more fragile thing than we believed. It has always been vulnerable to politicians who, in their lust for indefinite power, would subvert its structure to stave off a day in which they, or their partisan affiliates, fade to the periphery.

Democracy cannot, without toil and maintenance, endure indefinitely. It is not, nor has it ever been, a thing that we could rely upon like we do the sunrise or the sunset or the passing of the seasons.

We will have to make this sun rise. We will have to make this sun set. We will have to make this season change.

And we do not have to wait to make these things so.