This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

North Carolina Judges Deal With State's Gerrymandered Districts

You may recall that in July of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court said that federal courts had no role to play in dealing with political gerrymandering of districts at the state level. This week, however, a panel of judges in North Carolina showed that courts can act to keep state legislatures from designing district boundaries that defy the demographics of the state. The New York Times has the story, including commentary from its editorial board. 
The existing maps were so effective that they helped entrench Republican majorities even when Democrats won more votes statewide. In 2018, Republican candidates for North Carolina’s House of Representatives won less than 50 percent of the two-party statewide vote, but walked away with 65 seats to the Democrats’ 55. Republican candidates for the State Senate also won a minority of the popular vote, and still took 29 of 50 seats.
This kind of abuse of the democratic process is precisely what courts are designed to fix. But when North Carolina voters begged the United States Supreme Court for relief, arguing that they had been written out of the political process by the very people who were supposed to serve them, the five conservative justices turned their backs. The court could do nothing, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a demoralizing opinion in June — not because the Republicans are innocent, but because the judiciary can’t hold them accountable for what are, in essence, political crimes.
But the North Carolina judges did do something about it, requiring that the legislature redraw boundaries for state offices, and the Republican-led legislature seems to be agreeable to the court's decision. The only caveat here is that so far the ruling applies only to the boundaries for electing representatives to the state government, and not to U.S. Congressional Districts. There's still more work to be done, but this is obviously a move in the right direction. 

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