GREENSBORO — As North Carolina’s long-running redistricting saga was argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court, some A&T students had a simple reminder:
Don’t split our campus.
About 40 A&T students, professors and supporters gathered Tuesday morning in front of Gibbs Hall, right on the edge of the 13th Congressional District. A literal stone’s throw away — assuming one had a good rock and a reasonably strong arm — was the Bluford Library that stands in the 6th District.
The students said the congressional map in place for the 2016 and 2018 elections — a map drawn by Republicans in Raleigh and ruled unconstitutional by federal judges last summer — unfairly splits the state university of 12,000 students.
“This institution has historically played an important role in our society’s fight for change, and that still rings true today,” said Keonna Keesse, a junior who leads A&T’s Political Science Society.
“It is not by coincidence that the North Carolina legislature would target the largest (historically black university) in the nation and in North Carolina,” she added, “by knowingly drawing a line in the middle of the campus, thereby diminishing the power of our vote.”
Tuesday’s news conference was organized by Common Cause NC, a plaintiff in one of the cases of partisan redistricting — or gerrymandering, as the group would call it — that came before the U.S. Supreme Court.
For more than two hours Tuesday, the justices heard arguments for and against congressional maps drawn by Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland.
At issue is whether courts should involve themselves in the redistricting process at all. The U.S. Constitution leaves it up to the states to determine how to pick representatives. The traditional practice has been to let state legislatures draw lines and then hold elections. The plaintiffs in the North Carolina and Maryland cases argue that the courts should get involved because the legislature went too far down a partisan path.
In North Carolina, federal courts have ruled the last two congressional maps drawn by the Republican legislature to be unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. Because the latest ruling came so close to November’s election, a panel of three federal judges said the current N.C. maps could be used just one more time in 2018.
Republicans won 10 of 13 congressional seats in November despite getting just 51 percent of the vote. (Two of those districts face new elections — one because the winning incumbent candidate died, and another because of allegations of absentee voter fraud.)
At Tuesday’s event, A&T students said their campus is evidence of cracking — that is, the voting strength of a community is diluted by splitting it between two districts.
At A&T, the dividing line runs north and south along Laurel Street. The western half of campus — the cafeteria, the A&T Four statue, the engineering program and about half of the dorms — are in the 13th District represented by Ted Budd. The eastern half of campus — the business school, the new student center, the football stadium and the library — are in Rep. Mark Walker’s 6th District. Both Budd and Walker are Republicans.
A&T isn’t the only split college campus in North Carolina. Most of East Carolina University sits in the 1st District, but its football stadium and basketball arena are in the 3rd District. At UNC-Asheville, the line that separates the 10th and 11th districts runs through two residence halls on the edge of campus.
But A&T students said their split campus needs to be brought back together.
“The practice of gerrymandering suppresses all our voices and discourages faith in good government,” said Love Caesar, a junior who’s majoring in history and political science. “On this matter no one will silence us. We will speak up and we will stand up to end gerrymandering in this community.”
If the courts don’t act, the legislature might, said Reggie Weaver, the civic engagement coordinator for Common Cause NC. He noted that Democrats and Republicans in Raleigh filed a bill in February that would set up an independent redistricting commission that would create election district maps that rely less on political considerations and more on geography.
Rep. Jon Hardister, the Guilford County Republican, is one of four primary sponsors of House Bill 69. The bill has more than 60 other House sponsors
“We don’t know what the court’s going to do,” Weaver said, “but we know that the state legislature can act well before a decision is made.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Tuesday’s cases sometime this summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.