24 May, 2017
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the North Carolina General Assembly violated the constitution by relying too heavily on race in drawing two congressional districts. They pointed to statements by legislative leaders and others that the point of CD 12 was to pack democratic voters into CD 12 so they could not influence elections in the surrounding districts.
That is, however, precisely what GOP officials in North Carolina did in one of the most ridiculous contemporary examples of gerrymandering in the country. "The issue is whether District 12 was drawn predominantly because of race". 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. But Paxton has previously expressed confidence in the state's 2013 maps after the district court struck down the 2011 effort.
North Carolina's First and Twelfth Congressional Districts were at issue, with both being known for their odd shapes (the First has been compared to an octopus) that arose from their very deliberately drawn borders.
The court unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling on District 1 in northeastern North Carolina. It's true that Democrats had certainly drawn districts for an advantage in the past, but not to the extreme extent Republicans did.
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.
Republicans complained about the ruling, however, saying it compounds "the confused state of the law".
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. And by a 5 to 3 vote, the court found that the evidence in the case, quote, "debunked" the state's contention that it was acting not with any racial motive but only for partisan advantage when it set racial targets.
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"This is a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering", said Eric Holder, the former Democratic attorney general now chairing the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
Alito complained that in a previous decision, the court insisted that those challenging districts present alternative maps showing that the legislature could achieve its political goals without "the racial effects giving rise to the racial gerrymandering allegation". Critics of the new voting maps also contended that the legislature was to trying to limit the number of districts in the state that could be won by the Democrats.
Voting rights advocates said the ruling would boost challenges in other states.
The split among the justices was over the 12th district.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. objected. "A precedent of this court should not be treated like a disposable household item - say, a paper plate of napkin - to be used once and then tossed in the trash", Alito argued. Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the more liberal Justices Elena Kegan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had not yet joined the court when arguments in the case were heard, did not participate in the ruling. "We are hopeful that the court will find that, like racial gerrymandering, partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional". The only exception is when a state has a compelling reason to do so, such as complying with the Voting Rights Act's requirement that minority voters not be unfairly prevented from electing the candidates of their choice.
Regardless of the outcome of the challenges to those districts, this long, costly and confusing process should suggest a remedy that many in this state have been pursuing for some time.