Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Gerrymandered North Carolina Districts

Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Gerrymandered North Carolina Districts

The state redrew congressional district maps in 2016 to comply with court rulings. And now, North Carolina has lost another case in a landmark ruling that will likely force many states to completely redraw their districts.

Until that day comes, we fear North Carolina's redistricting plans will have plenty more court dates, regardless of whether the General Assembly is controlled by Republicans or by Democrats. 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.

The first has to do with these same two congressional districts.

The Supreme Court on Monday, May 22, rejected two congressional redistricting maps in North Carolina, ruling that race played too much of a role in how lawmakers drew district lines.

But the justices declared that North Carolina had relied too heavily on race in its efforts to "reshuffle", in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, voters in two congressional districts.

In District 1, the legislature increased black voting age population from 47.6 percent to 52.65 percent.

Ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas sided with four liberal justices in the 5-3 majority decision. He agreed that the court correctly deferred to the lower court's "plausible" interpretation of the evidence.

States have to take race into account when drawing maps for legislative, congressional and a host of municipal political districts.

Racial gerrymandering complaints have arisen previously out of the two districts in question, which are both held by Democrats.

But what of purely partisan gerrymanders, especially in the rest of the country?

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering could potentially be challenged as unconstitutional if it involved "intentional discrimination against an identifiable political group and an actual discriminatory effect on that group". And that has not been going well when it comes to voting rights.

Now there is a case from Wisconsin waiting in the wings at the Supreme Court - a case in which the plaintiffs purport to have found such a workable standard.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito argued race was not a consideration in the North Carolina lawmakers' redistricting. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

North Carolina officials said they were trying to preserve black majorities and comply with the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law created to protect racial minorities.

"T$3 he Court made it clear that it would not allow states to get away with an unlawful racial gerrymandering by claiming that it's just politics", Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. The new districts already have been challenged in court. She said the state's arguments do not "withstand strict scrutiny". Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine.

"They weren't going to rule on the [partisan gerrymandering] case until they heard and decided on the merits of the [racially gerrymandering] case".

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