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SCOTUS rejects North Carolina redistricting

Of interest.

On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling from North Carolina’s highest court that had upheld Republican-drawn maps of the state’s congressional and legislative districts. While we don’t yet know what the final outcome will be, the court’s decision could have a real impact on one of the most aggressively partisan gerrymanders in the nation.

Democrats had argued that the new lines were unconstitutional because they’d improperly taken voters’ race into account; while this line of attack did not receive a receptive audience in state court, the SCOTUS decreed that in light of a recent decision of theirs in a similar case out of Alabama, the North Carolina Supreme Court had to reconsider its decision.

So what did that Alabama decision say? In that case, plaintiffs claimed that Republicans—who had their hands on the cartographer’s pencil there as well—had packed black voters into too few districts, “bleaching” surrounding districts and thus diminishing Democratic voting strength in those areas (because African-Americans almost always vote heavily for Democrats). There as here, a lower court sided with the defendants, but the Supreme Court disagreed and sent that case back down for a re-hearing last month. We’re still awaiting the results, and may yet for a while.

Opponents of North Carolina’s maps raised very similar arguments—take a look at the skinny, snake-like 12th District, which crams in a black majority running along a hundred-mile stretch of I-85 from Greensboro to Charlotte. They now find themselves in the same place as their peers in Alabama: waiting to see how a lower court decides the second time around. However, as legal scholar Rick Hasen explained when the Alabama decision was handed down, the Supreme Court’s ruling may only offer plaintiffs a “small” and “temporary” victory.

The reasons why this victory could be small and temporary are that this will go back to the state trial court, which will then give the NC legislature directions for drawing a new map. It may be that some fairly small fixes are all that’s needed, and of course one should never underestimate the motivation to draw maximal maps. Still, that’s two redistricting maps struck down by SCOTUS in recent months, which is certainly suggestive for the Texas redistricting litigation. The issues are somewhat different here, and we haven’t even gotten an appellate ruling yet, so we’re a long way off from hearing from SCOTUS. Keep it filed away for future reference anyway. The Hill has more.

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One Comment

  1. Mainstream says:

    The skinny 12th district was challenged as a racial gerrymander in the past, defended by the Democrat state attorney general and the Democrat governor as providing a needed opportunity for black political success, and to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The US Supreme Court upheld the district as political, not racial. Cromartie v. Easley.

    The more interesting map-drawing is Congressman David Price’s 4th District in the Research Triangle, which now links black sections of Raleigh and Durham with reliably liberal university voters. The Democratic primary electorate of this district is now majority black, and just as Chris Bell was defeated in such a district by Al Green, Price could be vulnerable to a challenge, or at a minimum is likely to be replaced by a candidate preferred by black voters when he retires.

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