By Brian Cannon
Can our government treat us differently based on which political party we belong to? That’s the question on the docket for SCOTUS next week.
For anyone following the redistricting reform movement in Virginia or nationwide, Tuesday, March 26, is a crucial date to watch at the U.S. Supreme Court. OneVirginia2021 will be there, rallying beside our colleagues from Maryland and North Carolina as they await the court’s ruling on their respective cases. We also filed an amicus brief in support of the reform sides in both the Maryland and North Carolina cases.
Both Maryland and North Carolina have produced court cases that attempt to establish a standard by which to recognize – and prohibit – partisan gerrymandering. The Court has long opposed partisan gerrymandering in theory, but finding a consistent measurement for identifying it has proved challenging.
Maryland’s case hinges on the First Amendment. There, the challengers argue that the state’s Democratic governor and Legislature retaliated against Republican voters for their past support of an incumbent GOP member of Congress by having their congressional district redrawn to minimize their influence.
In North Carolina, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters invoke both First and Fourteenth Amendment arguments for why the Tarheel State’s gerrymanders are unconstitutional. They refer to the practice of drawing lines around voters based on how they vote as “viewpoint discrimination.”
In both states, one party controls both chambers of the legislature – in Maryland, it’s the Democrats; in North Carolina, the Republicans – and that majority party drew maps in 2011 that curtailed the electoral strength of the minority party in the state legislature and in Congress. Using meandering district lines and packing and cracking voters from the other party, they diminished the votes of the citizens who disagreed with them. Their governments treated them differently – against their First Amendment right of association – based on their political beliefs.
Here in Virginia, we are on course to do better than our neighbors to the north and south. Our General Assembly just passed a state constitutional amendment resolution that would end the practice of partisan gerrymandering in our commonwealth. It’s the most comprehensive redistricting reform ever passed through a state legislature. It would stop the shenanigans we’re seeing in Maryland and North Carolina – and have seen in Virginia for far too long.
We’ve ensured that citizens comprise half of the redistricting commission, that both parties in the legislature are equally represented on the commission, and that there is transparency every step of the way, from open meetings to public records.
However, our work is not finished. We have to pass the resolution through the legislature a second time after this November’s elections, and we need to supplement the resolution with some enabling legislation to iron out logistics. We also need to add in further safeguards against incumbency protection, the packing or cracking of communities, and partisan overreach.
We are fighting for the citizens of Virginia, but we are also standing with our neighbors to our north and south. The self-serving, unfair, rigged maps we see in Maryland and North Carolina should become a thing of the past. Our work here will prevent Virginia from ever living under rigged maps like those again.