Politics & Government

Two NC Republicans say they accidentally asked the Supreme Court to end gerrymandering

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, center, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 12, 2017, to say that his group wants to delay the traditional August recess until work is accomplished on health care, the debt ceiling and tax reform.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, center, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 12, 2017, to say that his group wants to delay the traditional August recess until work is accomplished on health care, the debt ceiling and tax reform. AP

Two of the three North Carolina lawmakers who had joined with prominent national politicians to oppose gerrymandering have now backtracked, saying they didn’t mean to add their names on an anti-gerrymandering letter sent to the Supreme Court.

Rep. Mark Meadows and Rep. Walter Jones, both Republicans, signed on to the legal brief along with Democratic Rep. David Price.

Meadows blamed an “error” and Jones blamed “miscommunication” for their participation. Meadows also made a point to say he supports the N.C. General Assembly, which is in charge of drawing the state’s lines for its members of Congress.

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That means Price is now the only one of North Carolina’s 15 members of Congress who remains involved in the anti-gerrymandering efforts at the Supreme Court. The Chapel Hill lawmaker’s office confirmed Friday that he didn’t sign his name accidentally.

“Yes, we absolutely meant to sign the brief and have no intentions of dropping our support,” said Sawyer Hackett, Price’s spokesperson.

In a press release, Price was also quoted as saying “It is time we put an end to a system where politicians have the ability to cherry pick their voters. My home state of North Carolina has been ground-zero for hyper-partisan gerrymandering, and I am proud to add my voice to this effort.”

The letter in question, known as an amicus brief, had been submitted to the Supreme Court in advance of a case regarding politically motivated gerrymandering in Wisconsin. The court has long held that racially motivated redistricting is unconstitutional. But this could be the first time the nation’s highest court sets a standard for whether politically motivated redistricting can go too far.

Republican politicians including Arizona Sen. John McCain, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have been among those leading the anti-gerrymandering push, along with Democrats such as former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder and government watchdog groups like Common Cause.

Other than Schwarzenegger, Kasich and McCain, Meadows had been one of the biggest names to formally ask the court to do away with political gerrymandering. He leads the far-right Freedom Caucus, which has flexed its power in recent debates on health care and more.

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What the briefs say

Meadows was quoted multiple times in the Supreme Court brief, which he said he reviewed before accidentally signing.

“Partisan gerrymanders move affected members towards their respective ideological poles, encourage members to eschew principled, bipartisan compromise, and transfer power from voters to political parties,” the brief states at one point. “Importantly, these gerrymanders prevent members (of Congress) from following the cardinal rule of serving as a representative of the people, which amicus Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina has succinctly set forth: ‘My allegiance is always to my constituents and never to a party.’”

Meadows’ spokesman did not respond to a question about whether his removal of his name from the brief meant he supports politically motivated gerrymandering or not.

At another point in the brief, the authors use a different Meadows quote to back up their argument that “Using the redistricting process to enforce internal party discipline is anathema to members’ faithful and independent representation of voters’ interests.”

Price is also quoted on that same topic.

“A member in a ‘safe’ district has strong incentives to appeal to the party insiders and/or highly-partisan primary voters who hold the key to reelection,” the brief states. “This dynamic, amicus Representative David Price (D-NC) noted, “really affects the way members behave once they come [to Congress]. I’ve heard some guys say they might be more moderate, but they just can’t be ... It all adds up to pretty extreme behavior. The gerrymandering really exacerbated that.’”

Another brief on the case, signed by state-level lawmakers, also includes support from some North Carolina Democrats, among a total of 26 Republicans and 39 Democrats from eight states.

The brief argues that “modern-day gerrymandering by both parties represents a grave and growing threat to the Constitution’s vision of democracy.”

It goes on to single out North Carolina as a particularly extreme example.

“The result of all this is that legislatures in many states are broken,” the brief says. “This can be seen perhaps most starkly in North Carolina, where senators from the majority party recently attacked political opponents by cutting education funding from their rivals’ districts. There are many other less obvious but equally damning examples.”

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran

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