US Supreme Court rejects two congressional districts in N Carolina

May 24, 2017, 05:21
US Supreme Court rejects two congressional districts in N Carolina

The North Carolina ruling upheld a federal district court decision that struck down the state's 1st and 12th congressional districts because state lawmakers had packed African American voters into them, thereby minimizing the influence of black voters in other districts.

North Carolina prevailed in state court, where a trial judge rejected a claim from several civil rights groups that the districts were unlawfully gerrymandered.

Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down North Carolina's congressional map. Alabama left open two questions that Cooper and an earlier case from this term, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, try to answer: (1) How does a court go about deciding whether a state drew an individual district predominantly on the basis of race such that strict scrutiny applies?

It's unclear right now if the districts re-drawn in 2016 will also be invalidated. In a deft opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the court essentially scraps Cromartie's race vs. party distinction, replacing it with a more lenient rule.

Note that the majority included the court's four center-left jurists - Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer - who were unexpectedly joined in this decision by, of all people, Clarence Thomas.

The court voted separately on each of the two districts.

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The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the new lines for District 1, ruling that lawmakers had relied too heavily on race in redrawing its boundaries.

During oral arguments last December, Paul Clement told the court, "We know how to tell you when we're taking race into account".

The Supreme Court has also never said legislative districts can not be mapped based on plainly partisan aims like maximizing one party's election chances. The unfortunate upshot of Cooper and Bethune-Hill is that, even after all the court's redistricting cases in this cycle, redistricters and lower courts still lack bright-line rules to follow going forward. Because those districts were already redrawn for the 2016 election, the ruling doesn't require immediate changes from North Carolina.

In doing so, Kagan said the court would not "approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d'être is a legal mistake".

The justices split 5-3 on the other territory, District 12 winding from Charlotte to Greensboro. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the majority ignored a precedent establishing that an alternate map must be proposed.

Justice Neil Gorsuch didn't participate because he was not on the bench when the case was heard.

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The state insisted that race played no role at all in the creation of one district. Amazingly, all 10 Republican districts hit a ideal sweet spot with GOP support between 55 and 60 percent, a level that is high enough to be secure yet spreads around Republican voters just carefully enough to ensure the maximum number of GOP seats possible. Thomas is a staunch opponent of the use of race in drawing district lines, no matter which side benefits.

Additionally, civil rights groups in the United States applauded the court ruling noting that North Carolina officials had violated the proportional rule of voting-age populations in the USA state. The court ruled that both were, which doesn't surprise observers.

Student voter registration and turnout generated by HBCUs could now impact representation in several districts throughout the state.

The three justices argued that previous court rulings have required those challenging the legality of voting districts offer an alternative map, but the majority deemed the lack of an alternative in this case inconsequential.

We hope Monday's court ruling helps propel agreement on the need to revamp our redistricting process.

There's some debate in legal circles about the scope of yesterday's ruling and how much it can be used by voting-rights advocates, but the broader pattern of recent rulings gives them some cause for optimism.

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"North Carolina voters deserve a level playing field and fair elections, and I'm glad the Supreme Court agrees".

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