Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Gerrymandered North Carolina Districts
- Author: Marjorie Miles May 24, 2017,
May 24, 2017, 5:25
Eric Holder, who was US attorney general under President Barack Obama and now heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group backing Democrats in redistricting fights, welcomed the decision. The Court upheld a lower court's ruling that said the districts, which were drawn in 2011, were illegal, the News & Observer reports.
What makes this Supreme Court ruling such a bombshell is that it essentially states that the argument that districts with an unusually large number of non-white voters can not use race as a proxy for party, or in other words, maps can not be drawn on the assumption that non-white people will always vote for the Democrat.
African-American and Democratic critics accused Republicans of drawing districts to contain more African Americans than necessary to keep surrounding districts more white and more Republican. The judge, San Antonio's Xavier Rodriguez, also suggested the parties discuss with Abbott's office whether they should just "voluntarily undertake redistricting" in a special legislative session, which only the governor could call. In 2004, a four-member Supreme Court plurality all but ruled out challenges to even extreme partisan gerrymanders, while four members of the court would have allowed some limited challenges.
The effect of the two redrawn districts was to reduce the political clout of African American voters statewide, courts have ruled.
The court rejected the argument from North Carolina lawmakers that the objective of drawing the maps was not race discrimination but an attempt to gain a partisan advantage. At the same time, race can't be the predominant factor without very strong reasons, under a line of high court cases stretching back 20 years. That case is on the Supreme Court's docket for Thursday, so we could learn soon if that map will have to be redrawn and new elections held this year. The court has never ruled against states drawing boundaries based upon partisan concerns, but a case coming out of Wisconsin might provide the justices with such an opportunity. Because those districts were already redrawn for the 2016 election, the ruling doesn't require immediate changes from North Carolina. This glide path to strict scrutiny is contrary to the way the court evaluated racial gerrymandering claims when it created the cause of action in the 1990s.
The justices also voted 5 to 3 to reject District 12, located in the south-central part of the state. "This opinion, with Justice (Clarence) Thomas joining the majority, must mean those districts are unconstitutional". In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the majority ignored a precedent establishing that an alternate map must be proposed.
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Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in considering or deciding the case.
In regard to District 12, the state maintained the race played no role in the creation of the district. "The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district's reconfiguration".
The decision was handed down by an unusual coalition of justices, and was the latest in a series of setbacks for Republican-led legislatures. Easley cemented the notion that states may gerrymander along partisan lines, even where race and political affiliation are intertwined. The justices could act on the challenge to the state districts as early as next week.
The map revision maximized black voters in some North Carolina districts and minimized black voters in others, according to The Atlantic. North Carolina's voters would be much better served if a bipartisan or nonpartisan independent commission did the work, as happens in some other states.
Those changes helped change the state's congressional delegation from 7-6 Democratic in 2010 to 10-3 Republican in 2016 - a trend that Alito said resulted from "a coherent (and generally successful) political strategy".