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Wednesday, 12 July 2017 16:20

Voters are treated poorly by gross gerrymandering

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Speaking to his son’s graduating class, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts told them this: “From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to learn the value of justice.”

You can guess where this is going. It inspired me to write him a letter that I’m mailing tomorrow regarding the redistricting issue.

Dear Mr. Chief Justice:

It is ordinarily unavailing, I know, and even frowned upon for a private citizen to attempt to convey personal views ex parte to the Supreme Court regarding issues pending before the court. The approved manner is to hire counsel and file an amicus brief. As I can’t afford that, I feel an urgency to write this letter for whatever good it might do.

It was something you said recently that inspired me to do this.

I’ m referring to your splendid remarks to your son’s graduating class at the Cardigan Mountain School and specifically to these words: “From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to learn the value of justice.”

To live in North Carolina is to know painfully well how it feels to be treated unfairly, and to yearn for justice. The issue is one of those that led to the historic declaration of 4 July 1776: taxation without representation. In fact, our state is so grotesquely gerrymandered that despite close outcomes in nearly every statewide election, the majority power has given itself impregnable supermajorities in the General Assembly and a 10 to 3 advantage in the delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

I haven’t the slightest expectation that the majority will consider my views, or those of millions of others, on any issue that arises. And when we elected a governor of our party, by a narrow but clear majority, the ruling party promptly stripped him of nearly every authority that seemed vulnerable to legislation.

The party in power has hardly been coy about abusing its power to design voting districts to its advantage. Indeed, that was actually part of its defense in the racial gerrymandering caper that you recently overturned. But that outcome only gets at the edges of the problem, which is that the Supreme Court has never directly held discrimination against citizens on the basis of their politics to violate the 14th Amendment’s promise of equal protection of the laws.

That is the issue which your court has agreed to confront in the pending Wisconsin case. It will be a tough call for many reasons, I know, but I believe our future as a democratic republic depends on it.

My first votes, in 1958 and 1960, were cast in Florida, which was so grossly malapportioned that fewer than 20 percent of the people could elect majorities of both houses of the Legislature. When that Legislature adopted an interposition resolution, purporting to declare your court’s school desegregation rulings null and void, legislators representing the majority of Floridians opposed it.

Then, as now, I had no hope that my vote mattered, which meant in effect that I wasn’t represented at all. Governor LeRoy Collins had broken his lance over and over against the legislature’s brazen resistance to fair apportionment. He had left office by the time the court decided Baker v. Carr and its progeny, which made one-man-one-vote the law of the land. He had left office believing he had failed in the greatest challenge he undertook.

But when he said so at a dinner party in Washington several years later, a Supreme Court justice in attendance — most likely William O. Douglas — told him, “no, you didn’t fail; it was your struggle that persuaded us that we had to act.” When the court finally entered what it had feared was a “political thicket,” it freed millions of Americans from a political prison.

On that occasion, the Court had acted upon Justice Felix Frankfurter’s famous admonition that, “There comes a point where this Court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men.”

What you surely must know as judges is that there is no chance in North Carolina, or in any other severely gerrymandered state, be it Republican or Democratic, to restore representative democracy by political means. You are our last hope, our only hope.

Sincerely,

Martin A. Dyckman

(Dyckman is a retired journalist living in Western North Carolina. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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