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Supreme Court: North Carolina Used Race to Draw Congressional Districts

Supreme Court: North Carolina Used Race to Draw Congressional Districts

Clarence Thomas stood with the majority.

The Supreme court has ruled that Republicans in North Carolina used race and not politics when they drew congressional districts in 2011. A lower court ruled the same, which “forced legislators to create new maps last year.” The News & Observer continued:

The 5-3 ruling, written by Justice Elena Kagan, is among a series by the justices against the excessive use of race in redistricting that state lawmakers across the country take up every 10 years after the release of new Census data.

Justice Clarence Thomas joined the majority, taking a stand with more liberal justices with whom he often disagrees.

Justice Samuel Alito dissented in part from the ruling, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy. The newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, did not participate in the case.

In February 2016, a lower court found evidence that officials used race to redraw the 12th Congressional District and 1st Congressional district, both of which had Democrat representatives:

The lawsuit was brought by Mecklenburg County voters and said the 1st District was “akin to a Rorschach inkblot” weaving through 24 counties and containing only five whole counties. The district is mostly in the northeastern part of the state and included Durham, Elizabeth City, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro and New Bern.

The 12th District was 120 miles long but just 20 miles wide at its widest part. The district included large portions of Charlotte and Greensboro connected by a thin strip – “averaging only a few miles wide,” the lawsuit said – that followed Interstate 85. The district was the most litigated in the country during the 1990s, and the subject of four cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Redistricting lawsuits delayed North Carolina elections in 1998 and 2002.

Kagan wrote:

“We uphold the District Court’s conclusions that racial considerations predominated in designing both District 1 and District 12,” Kagan wrote for the high court. “For District 12, that is all we must do, because North Carolina has made no attempt to justify race-based districting there. For District 1, we further uphold the District Court’s decision that [measure] 2 of the VRA [Voting Rights Act] gave North Carolina no good reason to reshuffle voters because of their race.”

Alito in his dissent argued that the redrawn lines “are readily explained by political considerations.”

The state formed new lines to comply with the lower court’s ruling, but this also faces a lawsuit that a federal court will hear in June. The groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina filed the lawsuit, which questions “the breadth to which lawmakers can draw districts for partisan advantage.”


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This is so ironic. The legislature drew the districts along racial lines to give the blacks some districts of their own so they would have representation. Then the dumb a$$es sued. Fine, then, we’ll draw up some non-racial lines and you guys will never again have a representative of your race. Did I mention dumb a$$es?

    tarheelkate in reply to snopercod. | May 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    That’s what happened with the last re-drawing of the lines. The Assembly re-drew the districts without considering race at all. Fine with me! The irony here is that the I-85 district and the one in northeastern NC were created originally by the Assembly when Democrats ran it, for the purpose of creating guaranteed black districts. It’s only when Republicans put just a few more black voters into them that there was this lawsuit.

    Draw the lines without considering race and see how happy that makes the Democrats. We already have the answer, since the non-racial redistricting is also the subject of a lawsuit.

    What it means is that any set of lines that doesn’t result in Democrats being elected is going to be considered unsuitable.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to snopercod. | May 22, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Don’t you mean “That’s just so RACIST!?”

    Milhouse in reply to snopercod. | May 22, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Um, no. The purpose was so all the black voters would be in one district where they’d be a super-majority, instead of spread over three districts where they’d outnumber white Democrats in the primary, and together with white Democrats they’d outnumber Republicans in the general. So instead of winning three districts with 55% they’re winning one district with 95% while white Republicans are winning the other two with 55%.

      Kind of.

      The point was that the Black Democrats were largely coalesced into one district to guarantee a BLACK Democrat would be elected in the 1993 when the District was re-activated after being decommissioned for 30 years (when the local area was predominantly Black AND Democrat, but where there were insufficient numbers of active voters to get a BLACK Democrat in any one district).

      As the political demographics changed, the Democrat controlled Legislature redrew the district to “Pack” the district with more of the Black vote in order to not have the possibility that the two districts next door would ALSO have Black candidates that would thereafter potentially lose to Republican candidates, because there was still an overtone that the White Democrats wouldn’t vote for a Black Candidate (ever; they would stay home).

      The Demographics in the REST of the State shifted slightly, the Republicans took control in 2011, and based on the 2010 census numbers and seeing an opportunity, they tweaked the map to Pack in even MORE Democrat voters and consolidate the Republican positions nearby, but nominally the point of the District was still to elect not just a Democrat, but a BLACK Democrat.

      The packing of it for RACIAL purposes was wrong. The packing of it for POLITICAL purposes is entirely valid.

      Likely what is going to happen is that the Legislature will keep the current format of District 12 in place, and in the next election or two, you will see Rep. Alma Adams be defeated or retire and be replaced with a White Democrat, even though the racial balance of the area is almost entirely Black.

so gerrymandering is bad then?

    jeffweimer in reply to dmacleo. | May 22, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Racial gerrymandering is bad…only when Republicans do it.

    I’d like to see this standard applied to Illinois and Maryland.

    Milhouse in reply to dmacleo. | May 22, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    No, the court’s long-standing position is that political gerrymandering is fine, but racial gerrymandering is not. The only point at issue in this case was which did NC do? The case wasn’t about principles, it was about the facts. What was the legislature’s purpose when it voted for this gerrymander? NC claimed they wanted to pack Democrats into one district so the surrounding districts would go Republican, and they’d have done the same if these Democrats had been white. 3 justices believed them, but 5 didn’t.

I can’t really say I disagree. Imagine if they redraw state lines by race – you move back to Louisiana to live in your family home, and two months later they redistrict you to Alabama. But has anyone come up with the right way to redistrict?

Gerrymandering through redistributive change (e.g. welfare schemes), immigration reform (e.g. refugee crises), and illegal immigration. Oh, and selective-child (i.e. “Pro-Choice”) to encourage [class] diversity.

My progressive friends are just grossed out about Gerrymandering.
They claim that the reason Republicans win in most of the Heartland is because of Gerrymandering.

    healthguyfsu in reply to Neo. | May 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    The “recently” disgraced Democrat congresswoman Corrine Brown was a textbook example of gerrymandering based on race.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to Neo. | May 22, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Have you offered to drive your friends to the nearest insane asylum?

As bad as the gerrymandered lines look now, they were more bizarre when the Dems had the NC Legislature a few years ago. All gerrymandered lines in NC are race based. They will be the next time around. Since blacks vote nearly 90% Dem and they make up just over 20% of our population, this problem will persist. Blacks do not divide like whites and the 1960s voting rights act makes this an intractable problem.

inspectorudy | May 22, 2017 at 3:56 pm

How about each state take several counties including their borders and make them into one voting district? That way the counties and any city in those counties would have common goals. If that turns out to harm blacks then too bad. I don’t remember our Constitution talking about every race must have its own representation. What next a jury selection system where there must be the “Correct” number of certain minority groups?

In the modern era of professional career politicians, it’s not obvious that the whole idea of voting districts makes as much sense as it did a couple of centuries ago. Perhaps we’d do better to ditch them entirely.

Yet you missed commenting on Heartland vs Kraft which will have
many long term repercussions.

I thought the civil rights rules REQUIRED districts to be drawn to be racially beneficial?? I mean, it’s a no-win situation.

I”m all for a grid. Just simply lay a grid pattern over a state and there’s your districts. And guess what? Even if they did something as unbiased as that… the minorities would sue.

    Milhouse in reply to RobM. | May 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

    I thought the civil rights rules REQUIRED districts to be drawn to be racially beneficial?? I mean, it’s a no-win situation.

    The rules require “majority-minority” districts only where the majority is voting as a bloc to defeat the minority’s preferred candidates and thus shut the minority out of the political process. In this case that was clearly not happening; Democrats were consistently winning both districts, because while blacks were a minority on their own, there were enough white Democrats to put them over the top. Therefore there was no requirement to draw a majority-black district, and thus the state had no compelling interest in doing so, and thus it had no constitutional right to do so.

Of course those two districts were gerrymandered based on race. In the 1990’s the gerrymander was challenged by Republicans because they were based on race and lost because it was considered consistent with the intent of the Voting Rights Act. Now, the gerrymander was challenged by Democrats and some claim the districts were packed by the evil Republicans. One of the advantages of having 4 Republican Governors in almost 150 years is when they are in you can blame all your evils on them.

The two districts have the only black and Democrat Representatives from North Carolina. This is a double back flip on the part of the Dems going from packing to promote racial ends to claiming racism to promote political ends. Both incumbents are 70 years old. It looks like the Democrats are willing to sacrifice these old folks on the political bet that by dilution into other districts they can gain representation.

The Voter’s Rights Act REQUIRES race be the primary consideration for drawing Congressional Districts in any districts that are VRA “majority minority” districts. Which, in NC, are the 2 districts in question.

If you do NOT use race as your primary consideration when drawing district lines, Democrats sue you in federal court and virtually always win.

In any case, considering blacks voted for Obama and the D’s at rates exceeding 95%, drawing lines purely by politics or purely by race yields precisely the same results.

    Milhouse in reply to Aarradin. | May 26, 2017 at 12:25 am

    The Voter’s Rights Act REQUIRES race be the primary consideration for drawing Congressional Districts in any districts that are VRA “majority minority” districts. Which, in NC, are the 2 districts in question.

    No, it doesn’t. It only requires it if there is a large and politically cohesive minority, and the majority is voting as a bloc to shut the minority out of politics. If a district has 45% blacks who mostly vote Democrat, but the white 55% vote so heavily Republican that the Rs consistently carry the district then §2 of the VRA requires adding more black voters so they can get the representation they want. But if there are enough white Democrats who can join with the blacks to elect their preferred candidate then the VRA is fine with that. It doesn’t require such districts, but it doesn’t prohibit them.