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Holder Vows to Shift Partisan Gerrymandering Fight to the States

June 28, 2019 by Dan McCue
Former Attorney General Eric Holder discusses redistricting reform at the National Press Club on March 26, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TS)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that federal judges have no role in settling disputes over partisan gerrymandering appears likely only to intensify efforts in the states to end the practice that allows both political parties to put a stranglehold on electoral majorities.

“My guess, to use an Obama-era phrase, is that grassroots opponents of partisan gerrymandering are going to be fired up by what the Supreme Court did today,” former Attorney General Eric Holder told The Well News only hours after the decision penned by Chief Justice John Roberts was handed down.

“They’re prepared to get out there and to make sure that state lawmakers don’t do what they did in 2011, when so many of the currently gerrymandered districts were drawn,” he continued. “I believe what you’re going to see going forward is substantial numbers of people injecting themselves into the process.”

Holder, who leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, did little to suppress his anger over the decision as he spoke, saying conservatives on the Supreme Court had done nothing less than “walk away from the constitutional guarantee of one person, one vote.”

“Taken together with the Citizens United case … and Shelby County, in which the court gutted Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, the Roberts court has done lasting damage to our democracy,” he said.

“And I’m not just saying that off the top of my head, this is my sincere belief,” he said. “They have repeatedly undermined voting rights and core democratic principles that are really meant to protect the integrity of our elections and provide equal protection for minority communities.”

Going forward, Holder said, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee will continue to pursue racial gerrymandering claims in federal courts and partisan gerrymandering claims in state courts.

In one recent case, the NDRC was able to convince the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to invalidate a Republican drawn map that violated the state constitution’s protections against racial gerrymandering, and Holder said a similar case is now pending in North Carolina.

He also noted that the National Redistricting Foundation, the 501C3 affiliate of the NDRC is currently backing three active lawsuits challenging district maps in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana on the grounds that they are racially gerrymandered.

“Each of these, again, involves alleged racial gerrymandering in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and they are not affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling,” he said.

“But at the same time, the foundation is already supporting a challenge to partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina in which plaintiffs are working to strike down state legislative maps. So we’re already working on the state level to beat back attempts to make the districting process more partisan,” he said.

Holder said the NDRC’s “comprehensive plan” extends beyond litigation to helping to elect state and local officials who will support the creation of nonpartisan redistricting commissions, and grassroots advocacy.

“We’ve supported a number of successful reform efforts in red and blue and purple states like Colorado, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri and Utah,” Holder said.

“In each of those states — with the exception of Ohio where it will work a little differently — we will have nonpartisan redistricting commissions drawing the new district lines in 2021, joining Arizona and California which already have such commissions — and we’re actively looking for more reform opportunities during the 2020 election cycle.”

Among those, he said, are supporting state constitutional amendments in 2020 to create independent redistricting commissions in New Hampshire, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“[So] even with no federal guardrails on gerrymandering, this fight is really far from over,” Holder said.

The former attorney general then grew a bit more reflective and offered that “nothing worth fighting for comes easy.”

“As I look back on the struggles that have transformed this nation, whether it is getting women the right to vote, ending segregation, the incidents that led to the Stonewall Riot that now ensure that our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are treated more fairly … these are not struggles that happen easily. There were setbacks in the course of those struggles,” Holder said.

“But I’m confident that because we have the people on our side, because we have justice on our side, and because we’re fighting for our democracy, that ultimately we will be successful and have a good and fair redistricting process in 2021,” he said.

Holder went on to stress that by fair, he doesn’t mean a process that will simply replace gerrymandering Republican mapmakers with gerrymandering Democrat mapmakers or vice versa.

“I will oppose any attempts at gerrymandering,” he said. “All we want to have is fairness. Because if we have a fair redistricting process and fair elections, I am confident Democrats will do just fine against Republicans and conservatives.”

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