Supreme Court Strikes down N. Carolina's Racial Gerrymander
02:11, May 27, 2017
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The Supreme Court has ruled that Republican lawmakers intentionally redrew congressional maps in North Carolina to disadvantage African-American voters after the 2010 census. The court held that the state "made no attempt to justify race-based districting there". It's true that Democrats had certainly drawn districts for an advantage in the past, but not to the extreme extent Republicans did. That followed a decision against Alabama's state legislative districts in 2015. This brazenly undemocratic admission was part of a legal tactic meant to insulate the new lines from renewed racial gerrymandering claims, but it opened up the map to lawsuits alleging unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
In a 5-3 ruling, the top USA court agreed with plaintiffs who said that the redrawn electoral boundaries deliberately targeted minority voters to diminish their political power.
The split among the justices was over the 12th district.
The Supreme Court sided with a lower court on Monday in finding that North Carolina had illegally drawn two of its voting districts to over-include black citizens, unfairly and illegally reducing their voting power.
Both districts have since been redrawn and the state conducted elections under the new congressional map in 2016. In March, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that the maps the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature drew in 2011 were gerrymandered to dilute the minority vote. At the same time, race can't be the predominant factor without very strong reasons, under a series of high court decisions.
Race can be considered in redrawing boundaries of voting districts only in certain instances, such as when states are seeking to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
"Partisan gerrymandering is always unsavory, but that is not the issue here", Alito wrote in his dissenting opinion. This decision will make it easier to challenge GOP racial gerrymanders elsewhere, which is significant because Republicans in almost every Southern state could have drawn another congressional district that would elect black or Latino voters's candidate of choice. A quarter of a century ago it was conservatives who challenged the redistricting plan in North Carolina and elsewhere, arguing successfully that race played an unconstitutionally large role in drawing district lines.
Kagan, writing for the court's majority, criticized lawmakers for increasing the share of black voters in the two districts to more than 50 percent, when experience had shown that was not necessary in order for minority voters to elect representatives of their choice. Kagan wrote that the court will not "approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence".
Newly sworn in Justice Neil Gorsuch abstained from ruling in both decisions, due to not being on the bench when the case was heard. On the one hand, the courts forbid states from making race the predominate factor during the redistricting process. Republicans maintained control of 10 of 13 districts.
Kagan wrote of a Charlotte-area district in question: "The evidence offered at trial. adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district's reconfiguration". Democrats hope to develop a broader constitutional challenge to partisan gerrymandering that would take aim at North Carolina's 2016 lines, along with those of other red states.
"North Carolina voters deserve a level playing field and fair elections, and I'm glad the Supreme Court agrees", he said in a statement.
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North Carolina is (unofficially) the GOP's policy lab in that numerous party's more controversial policies are first tested there. Nevertheless, Monday's ruling is a significant victory in a state that has been ground zero in the battle over voting rights .
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