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Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Congressional Districts In North Carolina
24 May 2017, 05:27 | Audrey Hill
Supreme Court Rejects 2 Congressional Districts In North CarolinaMore
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature relied on racial gerrymandering when drawing the state's congressional districts, a decision that could make it easier to challenge other state redistricting plans.
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 recent cases involving congressional maps in states including Alabama and Virginia, the court ruled that packing Black voters into a few small districts essentially dilutes their voting power - and is thus unconstitutional.
To justify their changes to one of those districts, the 1st Congressional District (CD1), Republican lawmakers claimed they were complying with the mandate of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which states that minority voters must be able to elect representatives of their choosing.
Since Republicans took over many state legislatures in 2010, they have drawn districts with what African American and Democratic critics claim are more blacks than necessary, in order to keep surrounding districts whiter - and more Republican. "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.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. objected. She alsosaid North Carolina lawmakers should appoint an independent commission to draw district boundaries. A state can not satisfy strict scrutiny, the court concluded, based on "no evidence".
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.
The 12th Congressional District (CD12) is even more curiously constructed. In District 1, in the northeast part of the state, the number of black voters grew to 52.7 percent from 48.6 percent, according to the court.
"That case is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and we'll see if they send that back to the lower court to look at that again or whether they take up a case of partisan gerrymandering directly which could happen as soon as the end of this term", Hasen says. And while the Supreme Court is correct in overturning efforts to draw districts based upon race, it should go further.
Writing for the court's majority, liberal JusticeElena Kagan countered that evidence at trial "adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district's reconfiguration". Kagan wrote that the court will not "approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence". Democrats used the law twenty years ago to create "majority-minority" districts.
Both districts are held by Democrats. Easley cemented the notion that states may gerrymander along partisan lines, even where race and political affiliation are intertwined.
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The Voting Rights Act requires the legislature take race into consideration when drawing district lines.
"North Carolina voters deserve a level playing field and fair elections, and I'm glad the Supreme Court agrees", said Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who was elected last November.
Newly sworn in Justice Neil Gorsuch abstained from ruling in both decisions, due to not being on the bench when the case was heard.
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