Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina congressional district maps

A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina Republicans relied too heavily on race when they drew two bizarrely shaped congressional voting districts that were used until the 2014 election. The Nation's Ari Berman noted yesterday, "T$3 hese GOP efforts are increasingly running afoul of the courts, who've now struck down GOP-drawn redistricting maps in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia - all states that previously had to approve their voting changes with the federal government under the Voting Rights Act". First, the plaintiff must prove that "race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature's decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district".

The case could have far-reaching effects on gerrymandering cases across the country. Republicans say it is hard to keep up with the courts' ever-changing rules on redistricting.

Also, when a lower court threw out the congressional districts, the legislature drew a new set. Richard Hasen teaches election law at the University of California, Irvine.

The lawmakers said they had tried to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which in some settings requires that black voters be concentrated in numbers sufficient to provide them an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.

It would be wise for North Carolina Republicans to use this opportunity to implement a nonpartisan redistricting system.

A three-judge panel previous year determined that the 1st Congressional District, which spreads like an octopus across northeast North Carolina and has a tentacle that dips into Durham County, and the 12th Congressional District, which snakes along Interstate 85 between Greensboro and Charlotte, were drawn specifically so that the majority of voters in each were black. The state's Republican legislative leadership had asked the Supreme Court to get involved, but the Democratic governor and attorney general said they did not want to defend the law. The decision affirms a lower court ruling in 2016 that ordered the districts to be redrawn.

It worked. Republicans hold 10 of 13 congressional seats, although some districts are curiously configured like ink blot tests, shapes not conducive to effective representation by someone familiar with all parts of a district. Legislators said they had to pack black voters in there to have a black candidate elected. It follows Interstate 85 in a snakelike fashion. Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the more liberal Justices Elena Kegan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. The decision was seen as a boon to the Democrats, as accounting for the total population, which includes children, felons, and noncitizens, can lead to vast differences in the number of voters in a particular district, as well as differences in the power of those voters. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented.

A three-judge panel in the federal court later struck down the two districts. The majority relieved the challengers of providing such a map in this case, he said.

"A precedent of this court should not be treated like a disposable household item - say, a paper plate or napkin - to be used once and then tossed in the trash".

In Cooper v. Harris, North Carolina voters sued state officials, alleging "impermissible racial gerrymanders".

The court ruled unanimously in the case of one of the districts, located in the northeastern part of the state.

  • Leroy Wright