Supreme Court Strikes down N. Carolina's Racial Gerrymander

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down two North Carolina congressional districts, ruling that lawmakers had violated the Constitution by relying too heavily on race in drawing them.

TOTENBERG: In addition to all the practical consequences that today's ruling could have for redistricting in North Carolina in 2018 and the rest of the country after the 2020 census, there is a fascinating political twist to today's Supreme Court decision.

In striking down North Carolina's congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state's case may fare if it reaches that stage.

Justice [Elena] Kagan said black voters, in coalitions with others, had been able to elect their preferred candidates even before the redistricting.

"The North Carolina Republican legislature tried to rig congressional elections by drawing unconstitutional districts that discriminated against African-Americans and that's wrong", said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat took office in January. "A precedent of this court should not be treated like a disposable household item - say, a paper plate of napkin - to be used once and then tossed in the trash", Alito argued.

Carolina's 12th Congressional District: "The Court junks a rule adopted in a prior, remarkably similar challenge to this very same congressional district", Alito wrote in the dissent.

North Carolina District 1 was also ruled unconstitutional in an 8-0 decision. The state voted in new districts in the 2016 elections, with Republicans maintaining their 10-3 advantage in the new districts.

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It's the latest case where justices ruled against race-based redistricting, even after tossing many protections for minority voters. In August, we filed suit against the NC legislature's partisan gerrymandering of the state's new congressional districts. Under the district map changes, the black voting-age population in District 1 was increased from 48.6 percent to 52.7 percent and the in District 12 from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent. Meanwhile, the ruling upheld the order of the lower court.

"This phenomenon makes it hard to distinguish between political and race-based decision making", said Justice Alito.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the state did not offer compelling justifications to justify its reliance on race in either district. Population shifts required North Carolina to add 100,000 people to District 1, but no changes were needed in District 12. This practice is also known as racial gerrymandering.

In recent years, the vast majority of African-American voters have historically voted Democrat, which can cause some confusion when trying to differentiate between standard gerrymandering and racial gerrymandering, according to dissenting Justice Alito. But afterward they realized that this provision harmed them if too many blacks were packed in two few districts, so they decided that they no longer liked the Voting Rights Act and no longer want racial gerrymandering.

"This is part of a court project over 30 years now of trying to see that race is not used in the design of election districts any more than is absolutely necessary", said Richard H. Pildes, a law professor at New York University.

Justice Kagan was joined in her opinion by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the case. During redistricting, the GOP increased those pluralities to majorities, claiming alternately that the Voting Rights Act forced them to do so (in the case of the 1st) or that they'd ignored race entirely and only considered partisan preferences in the 12th (something that is still permissible). But the court held that compliance with traditional districting criteria was still something a lower court could consider.

Cooper issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court for supporting "a level playing field and fair elections" for voters.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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