Supreme Court Agrees North Carolina Tried to Disenfranchise Minorities With Voting Districts

by Jared Lewis May 24, 2017, 5:18

This sort of "packing" actually serves to dilute blacks' voting power in other districts.

North Carolina District 1 was also ruled unconstitutional in an 8-0 decision.

RICHARD HASEN: This case is a big deal because it's going to make it much easier for voting rights plaintiffs, especially in the American South, to challenge gerrymanders that are done by Republican legislatures. In 1993, the court said partisanship is permissible, but redistricting based on race is not. They were hastily redrawn after the federal court ruled against them in February 2016, once again radically altering the map in the state. The new districts already have been challenged in court.

In addition to the practical consequences that Monday's ruling could have for redistricting in North Carolina in 2018, and in the rest of the country after the 2020 census, there is a fascinating political twist to the North Carolina case.

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".

And this is where Monday's ruling could have implications for two other North Carolina cases working their way through federal courts.

Republicans in the North Carolina legislature tried to argue that their objective for redrawing the lines wasn't about race but rather about partisan advantage. Hayes, a former member of Congress, noted that Holder's Justice Department signed off on the two congressional districts under a provision of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court has since struck down.

The 12th Congressional District (CD12) is even more curiously constructed. It reasoned that "where racial identification correlates highly with political affiliation, the party attacking the legislatively drawn boundaries must show at the least that the legislature could have achieved its legitimate political objectives in alternative ways", which "would have brought about significantly greater racial balance".

"We have the utmost respect for the Supreme Court, but it is challenging for our lawmakers to draw congressional districts that the courts will accept when the courts regularly change the rules state legislatures must follow when drawing them", said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger.

The high court in March demanded additional lower court review of 11 Virginia state legislature districts that Republicans designed with at least 55% black voting-age populations.

".we uphold the District Court's conclusions that racial considerations predominated in designing both District 1 and District 12", Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court. The Supreme Court affirmed that ruling. The justices unanimously rejected the "reshuffle" of voters in District 1 and voted 5-3 to reject that of District 12. And newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch will be able to hear the Texas case, whereas the North Carolina arguments occurred before he took his seat on the court. Amazingly, all 10 Republican districts hit a ideal sweet spot with GOP support between 55 and 60 percent, a level that is high enough to be secure yet spreads around Republican voters just carefully enough to ensure the maximum number of GOP seats possible.

"I think states felt like as long as they could point to partisan reasons to explain what they were doing, they could defend it in court", Kang said.

North Carolina Lawmakers defended the revision of these two districts at least in part by reasoning that they aimed to comply with the Voting Rights Act, a piece of legislation that sometimes stipulates redistricting to concentrate numbers of African American voters in order to gain a critical mass of people that could elect their chosen candidate, according to The New York Times.

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