North Carolina Democratic Leader On State's Legislative Map Ruling

Sep 8, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last week, a North Carolina court struck down the state's legislative maps, ruling that they amount to an unlawful partisan gerrymander - in other words, that the maps were drawn to unfairly advantage one party over another - in this case, Republicans. The decision is the most recent development in that state's battle over district lines and voting rights. Now the legislature has two weeks to redraw the district maps. We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called the Deputy Minority Leader of the State House of Representatives, Democrat Robert Reives.

Representative Reives, thank you so much for talking with us.

ROBERT REIVES: And thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So this isn't the first time a court has taken issue with North Carolina's legislative maps. In 2017, the Supreme Court overturned North Carolina's racially gerrymandered maps, saying that the lines were drawn to advantage voters of one race over others. Now the issue isn't race but partisan gerrymandering. So can you just tell us why this decision by the North Carolina court is so important in your view?

REIVES: Well, one, I think it's important because it's the first time the North Carolina court has said that partisan gerrymandering does violate the Constitution. So I think that was amazing to see that happen because I do think that is a huge problem - not just in our state, but throughout the country.

MARTIN: You know, I think prior to this information being made available about how the maps were explicitly drawn to try to keep a Republican super-majority, I think some might have argued that the Democrats just were - had sour grapes, that they just perhaps didn't have the best candidates with the best arguments. So the question I had is, like, did constituents of yours feel there was something wrong? Did they feel like - gee, that just something isn't right here?

REIVES: Yes. I think people throughout the state - I've been lucky enough to have a chance to travel the state and have these kind of conversations. In fact, I recently talked to someone speaking about a particular district, and they talked about the fact that they had - you know, their heart was with their political party, but because of the way things were made up, they just had to file as independent and hope that they could have some effects on the election through the primaries.

MARTIN: Now, I do want to mention that partisan gerrymandering is not just done by Republicans. There've been complaints, for example, in Maryland that the Maryland legislature, which has been dominated by Democrats for decades, drew its maps to advantage that party.

I mean, this was implicated in the Supreme Court case, but the Supreme Court decided that it had no role in partisan gerrymandering, which is why the state court ruling is so important. But the question I have for you as a Democrat - that if it becomes more even, what's to prevent the Democrats from doing the same thing in the - in future years - you know, drawing the maps to give them an unfair advantage?

REIVES: Well, actually, there's nothing to prevent that. And that's the only unfortunate part of this particular decision - is that does not seem to have precedential value because of the fact that it is not a ruling coming from an appellate or Supreme Court in the state. So we could very well be right back here in 2021. What I would love to see happen is for us to try to move on to something better, which I think most of us would concur would be an independent commission.

MARTIN: So the court gave the legislature - same legislature that benefited from these maps - two weeks to redraw the district maps.

REIVES: Yes.

MARTIN: How is that going?

REIVES: Well, it hasn't started yet. The interesting thing about the court's decision is that the court also requires that everything be done in public view. And what that means right now to us is that we can't even have discussions about those maps outside of a public forum - which right now, we've got to figure out what that process even looks like.

MARTIN: That was Representative Robert Reives. He is the deputy minority leader of North Carolina's House of Representatives.

Representative Reives, thank you so much for talking to us.

REIVES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.