President Obama’s decision to tap Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency ensures that, if confirmed, he will be playing a pivotal role in housing policy. But it also spotlights the awkwardly shaped congressional district he will be vacating, one of the most gerrymandered in the country. The district was originally drawn to connect scattered African-American precincts in towns from Gastonia 160 miles south to Raleigh-Durham. It now covers a smorgasbord of disconnected metropolitan areas, including parts of the cities of Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Lexington, Salisbury, and High Point.
Starting with the 1990s redistricting, Democrats backed the creation of the snake-shaped district to ensure the election of an African-American member of Congress. But Republicans later supported the gerrymandering too, since it ensured that neighboring districts would remain as conservative as possible by segregating the mostly Democratic black voters together in one district. So when Republicans took control of the state Legislature in 2010, they largely kept Watt’s seat intact as part of their plan to maximize GOP representation in the state. (Watt is now one of only three Democrats left in the state’s House delegation.)
According to the Almanac of American Politics, Watt’s district was “the most litigated district in the country during the 1990s, and was the focus of no fewer than four cases that went to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
If Watt is confirmed, there will be a special election held to fill his seat. Democrats are pretty much guaranteed to hold it. The district gave Obama 79 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential race.