Supreme Court agrees: GOP lawmakers used race to redraw voting districts


27 May, 2017

The ruling is a welcome blow against the time-dishonored practice of gerrymandering - drawing district lines to give one party an unfair advantage - but it won't eliminate the practice completely. In one of them, though, they said, they had made some use of race.

A three-judge panel past year determined that the 1st Congressional District, which spreads like an octopus across northeast North Carolina and has a tentacle that dips into Durham County, and the 12th Congressional District, which snakes along Interstate 85 between Greensboro and Charlotte, were drawn specifically so that the majority of voters in each were black.

While the Supreme Court decision marks a victory for North Carolina and future gerrymandering disputes, the court's acceptance that states can predetermine election results by finessing the system is troubling. She said the state's contention that it was simply adding Democrats was contradicted by testimony that only 18 percent of the region's white Democrats ended up in the district, while 65 percent of black Democrats did.

A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found in 2016 that North Carolina legislators had acted "with nearly surgical precision" to blunt the influence of African American voters. This law was put in place during the Civil Rights Movement to obstruct voting for African-Americans in historically racist states as part of the systemic discrimination known as Jim Crow laws, which were adopted in the century following the abolition of slavery.

Uncontested evidence in the record shows that the state's mapmakers, in considering District 1, purposefully established a racial target: African Americans should make up no less than a majority of the voting-age population.

Kagan's opinion was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. He agreed that the court correctly deferred to the lower court's "plausible" interpretation of the evidence.

In the coming months, the court is expected to weigh in on a case from Wisconsin involving partisan, not racial, gerrymandering.

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The lawmakers said they had tried to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which in some settings requires that black voters be concentrated in numbers sufficient to provide them an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. In recent years, observes UC's Hasen, the sides have flipped. Monday's decision is a warning shot to states that racial gerrymandering may be ending soon. Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the fifth and deciding vote, declaring that he might someday embrace a challenge to a partisan gerrymander if someone could come up with workable standards. But the Supreme Court found that implausible.

Let's face it: Gerrymandering is a rather ugly part of partisan behavior.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit Both are now held by black Democrats, G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams, respectively.

After the 2010 census, North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature redrew the lines of the state's congressional districts to increase the black voting-age population of two districts that already had significant (though not quite majority) black populations. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has more.

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.

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.

The court's decision on the other district was split 5-3, with three conservative justices dissenting.

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