Court Battles

Supreme Court strikes down NC districts as illegally based on race

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The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina illegally packed black voters into two voting districts.

In a 5-3 ruling, the justices affirmed the decision of a lower court. That ruling said North Carolina officials used race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines without a compelling reason when they created two districts — the 1st District and the 12th District — with majority-black voting-age populations.

Both of those districts are represented by Democrats; Rep. G.K. Butterfield represents the 1st District, while Rep. Alma Adams represents the 12th District.

“Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, that latitude cannot rescue District 1,” Justice Elena Kagan said in delivering the opinion of the court.

{mosads}“We by no means ‘insist that a state legislature, when redistricting, determine precisely what percent minority population demands.’ But neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.”

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.

In a rare move, Justice Clarence Thomas, a member of the court’s conservative wing, sided with Kagan and the court’s more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The ruling Monday will not impact North Carolina’s congressional districts as currently drawn. After a federal circuit court overturned the state lines in 2016, the Republican-controlled state legislature redrew the lines of the districts held by Butterfield and Adams, condensing both geographically while preserving the state’s 10 Republicans and three Democrats in its congressional delegation.

The new map condenses Butterfield’s district around Durham County and Adams’s district around Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County. Rep. David Price’s (D) district also consolidated around Wake and Durham counties. Much of Adams’s district, which used to snake north from Charlotte into Winston-Salem, is now divided between Reps. George Holding (R), Mark Walker (R) and Patrick McHenry (R).

North Carolina was appealing the District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina’s decision to side with David Harris, a voter from the state’s 1st Congressional District, who brought the case forward with Christine Bowser and Samuel Love, two voters who reside in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said said the court ignored past precedent in finding that race was the motivating factor in drawing District 12.

In a similar case in 2001 challenging the constitutionality of District 12, the challenger lost because they failed to provide an alternative map that served the legislature’s political objective without producing the same racial effect. Because Harris also failed to produce an alternative map, Alito said he should have lost this case.

“A precedent of this Court should not be treated like a disposable household item—say, a paper plate or napkin— to be used once and then tossed in the trash,” Alito wrote. “But that is what the Court does today in its decision regarding North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District: The Court junks a rule adopted in a prior, remarkably similar challenge to this very same congressional district.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in considering or deciding the case.

— Updated at 11:16 a.m. Reid Wilson contributed.

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