GREENSBORO — Former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder wants N.C. A&T students to help him keep up the fight against gerrymandering and urged them to get active in the political process.
"Your future is at stake," said Holder, a Democrat who served during President Barack Obama's administration. "The issues that matter to you will be decided by the people who will be in the state legislature and in Congress over the next few years."
Holder visited A&T on behalf of All On The Line, a national grassroots effort to eliminate gerrymandering. He met for an hour Thursday with about 20 students, many of them political science majors, and two professors.
All On The Line is backed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group chaired by Holder that's filing lawsuits, backing Democratic candidates and supporting other efforts to help Democrats take control of redistricting efforts in 2021.
The committee says it will be active in 12 states, including North Carolina, during the 2020 election cycle. (On its website, the committee said it will target state House and Senate races in North Carolina.) An arm of the committee filed suit last month to overturn North Carolina's congressional maps, which they say Republicans drew to give the GOP an unfair advantage at the polls. That lawsuit came three weeks after a state court ordered Republican lawmakers to redraw state Senate and House districts that they said were clear examples of "extreme partisan gerrymanders."
Senate President Phil Berger of Eden, a Republican, has criticized Holder's redistricting effort as partisan. Last month, after this latest redistricting suit was filed in state court in Raleigh, Berger described Holder's "'sue 'til blue' endgame" as a "Democratic legislative majority created by Democratic judges." Berger also noted that Holder's group is targeting only governor's offices and legislative chambers controlled by the GOP.
A&T, meanwhile, has been held up as a classic case of gerrymandering. A&T students for the past several years have publicly criticized a congressional district line runs that runs down Laurel Street through the heart of the Greensboro campus. Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican, represents the eastern side of campus that includes the library, the football stadium and the new student center. The district of Rep. Ted Budd, also a Republican, takes in the western side of campus with the cafeteria, the engineering college and the university's original main building.
Student efforts to point out this campus dividing line has attracted national media attention. In September, a New Yorker magazine story published online about the map-drawing efforts of late Republican operative Thomas Hofeller called the A&T dividing line "perhaps one of the clearest and ugliest gerrymanders in North Carolina — or in the entire nation." The story says that Hofeller's files contained detailed information about race, voting patterns and dorm assignments of more than 1,000 A&T students.
Holder took note of that division Thursday. Had the redistricting process been more fair, Holder said, Greensboro's east side might have a Democratic representative instead of two Republicans.
"In fair redistricting, you would keep communities of interest together. That's one of the things we try to say — it's one of those features of a good system," Holder told the A&T students. "Drawing the line down the middle of this campus is an example of how far they're willing to go to try to perpetuate Republican power."
During Thursday's session, A&T students asked about Holder's thoughts on increasing civics education and automatically registering people to vote when they get a driver's license. (He's in favor of both). They wondered about voter ID. (Holder said he opposes it.) A professor inquired about the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act. (Holder, the defendant in the case, called it "one of the worst (Supreme Court) decisions" in history.)
The former attorney general praised students for securing an early voting site on campus for the March primaries. The Guilford County Board of Elections approved the location last month; it's pending before the state elections board.
Holder encouraged the students to talk to their friends about getting involved. He said young people are a potentially huge voting bloc and reminded the students that many key civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were only a few years out of college.
"Now it's your time. Now it is our time to make sure we carry on that great struggle for fairness in this county," Holder said. "We can do this, but we all have to be involved."