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President Of Common Cause Discusses Supreme Court Decision In Gerrymandering Case


Now let's bring in Karen Hobert Flynn. She is president of the advocacy group Common Cause and the plaintiff in the North Carolina gerrymandering case at the center of today's Supreme Court ruling. She joins us from Dallas. Welcome.

KAREN HOBERT FLYNN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: First, just tell us your immediate reaction to the decision.

FLYNN: I was deeply disappointed in the opinion that the Supreme Court rendered to basically wash their hands of dealing with what they acknowledge is a huge problem for our democracy.

SHAPIRO: So what are the practical implications of it?

FLYNN: I think there are many. And let me just tell you a quick story about one. Common Cause North Carolina is also involved in a partisan gerrymander case at the state level. Once the Supreme Court came out with their decision, one of the Republican legislators involved in the partisan gerrymander did a press conference and said, we have been vindicated. No longer will there be any kind of litigation around a partisan gerrymander. The Supreme Court has, you know, said this is fine.

SHAPIRO: And do you think that's true, that the ruling on the federal Congress in Washington, D.C., also applies to the Statehouse in North Carolina?

FLYNN: Absolutely not. In fact, Roberts makes clear that there are avenues to tackle this issue. One is through Congress, which Congress can enact laws like HR1, the For The People Act that has reform for independent redistricting commissions. We also know that state litigation is another path he laid out. And pursuing other kinds of redistricting reforms, standards and other things is another path that we can pursue.

SHAPIRO: You know, Chief Justice Roberts said in his ruling that the drafters of the Constitution understood that politics would play a role in the process of drawing district boundaries and that it's not up to judges to second-guess the judgments of lawmakers. Does Roberts have a point that if Republicans win elections, Republicans win the right to draw these boundaries, and if Democrats win elections, then Democrats win that right?

FLYNN: I think the difference here is, one - you know, and actually Kagan cites this in her dissent - the map drawing used to be something that was a little bit of guesswork. Now, with technology, people can draw maps with such precision, getting down to the individual voter in ways that can deprive people of fair representation and the ability to choose their own representatives. And so the court absolutely should weigh in when people's First Amendment rights and their rights to have their voice heard, to have fair representation are abridged.

SHAPIRO: You've said the court should, but the court has now said it won't. So what's your next move?

FLYNN: We will be looking at several things. One is the state courts absolutely can figure out how to deal with partisan gerrymandering. They have done it in places like Pennsylvania, and they're doing it in North Carolina. So that is an avenue that is open to us. Second, we will be pursuing reform like independent redistricting commissions. And other jurisdictions are looking at setting standards. And there are things in motion right now. Third, I think we're going to have to look deeply at the maps that are being drawn.

Recently, Thomas Hoffler, who died recently, he was the guru involved in the Republicans' red map effort to draw district lines in 2010. When we found as part of our litigation some of his files, we saw that he didn't just use partisan data. He used racial data, even though he testified that it was only partisan data. So I think there's a lot more to dig into.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned independent redistricting commissions. Is that really your best bet now at the state level to get people in power who see the need for this to be a nonpartisan issue rather than trying to get some national directive handed down from the Supreme Court?

FLYNN: I think the best path is to continue to fight for reform and fight in the courts. And I think there's a lot more to uncover. I think we're going to see a lot of people saying what they're doing is partisan gerrymandering but also focusing on racial gerrymandering to deprive Latinos and others of their voice. And that's some of the revelations that are coming out of the Hoffler files.

SHAPIRO: That's Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a plaintiff in one of the gerrymandering lawsuits decided by the Supreme Court today. Thank you for joining us.

FLYNN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.