Supreme Court strikes down 2 NC congressional districts

May 24, 2017, 05:18
Supreme Court strikes down 2 NC congressional districts

Rep. Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said he interpreted the district court's new order as a message to the state.

"The Supreme Court says race can be a factor in redistricting but not the predominant factor, a rule that is so vague, so broad and so lacking in a definable legal standard that it is not really a rule at all", von Spakovsky said. Marc Elias, who argued the North Carolina case and is a senior adviser to Holder's group, said the ruling "will serve as a warning to Republicans not just in North Carolina but throughout the country that their cynical efforts to use race will not go unchallenged".

Also pending before the high court are separate challenges to state House and Senate districts that have helped the GOP cement veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Critics said the goal was to dilute minority voting strength outside of those two districts and preserve the power of neighboring white Republicans. After the 2010 census, lawmakers increased the district's black voting-age population to 52.7 percent from 48.6 percent.

At issue was whether North Carolina's first and twelfth districts were racially gerrymandered.

The court divided, 5 to 3, in rejecting District 12, in the south-central part of the state. Justice Neil Gorsuch was not involved in this case.

Republicans have said the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. Monday's decision is a warning shot to states that racial gerrymandering may be ending soon. In North Carolina, roughly two-thirds of white voters are Republican and about 90 percent of black voters cast their ballots most often for Democrats.

There was some truth to this idea, but also a great deal of naïveté. Opponents of race-based redistricting claimed that lawmakers forced black voters and their overwhelming support of democratic candidates into concentrated areas to ensure more seats for conservative candidates in other regions. It argued the Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to make surrounding districts safer for GOP candidates. Indeed, in related cases, the Supreme Court has consistently rejected the notion that mapmakers are required to create districts with majority-black populations. But in 2001's Easley v. Cromartie, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor unexpectedly flipped, siding with the liberals to ease restrictions on racial gerrymandering.

As for the 12th District, the court said the evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district's reconfiguration. Partisan gerrymandering is a national problem.

That era ended on Monday. Instead of viewing partisan gerrymanders as a violation of equal protection, Kennedy suggested that the court might see them as violations of the 1st Amendment because they penalize citizens for their political views or their association with a political party.

The fight over North Carolina districts - the First and Twelfth Congressional districts - was earlier wage in both state and federal court.

Despite the 2013 decision, federal courts still found that state redistricting and voter identification laws are discriminatory.

Last year's lower-court ruling forced lawmakers to push congressional primaries back from March to June and redraw the districts.

For more, election-law expert Rick Hasen's perspective is always worthwhile, and he wrote a detailed analysis on his blog yesterday, and a Washington Post op-ed today.

The three-judge panel past year called that argument "more of an afterthought than a clear objective", and the Supreme Court majority upheld that stance for both districts. Thomas is arguably the most consistent justice on racial gerrymandering: He opposes it no matter its ostensible objective. But they don't want districts that are 50% black.