Supreme Court Strikes Down 2 NC Congressional Districts

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While the districts have already been redrawn, Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate Leader Phil Berger, said Monday that the uncertainty in the court's decisions on this case have made redistricting hard.

Sachin Chheda, a spokesman for the Fair Elections Project that has backed the lawsuit, said the Supreme Court should let the ruling stand so neutral maps can be drawn well before the fall 2018 elections.

A lawyer challenging the General Assembly districts said legislative mapmakers used similar reasoning to defend the congressional and legislative maps, so Monday's ruling bolsters her cause. Like District 12, which once ran from Charlotte all the way up to Winston-Salem along Interstate 85, scooping up every African-American neighborhood along the way, it's a majority-minority district.

Marc Elias, who argued the case decided Monday and is a senior adviser to Holder's group, said the ruling "will serve as a warning to Republicans not just in North Carolina but throughout the country that their cynical efforts to use race will not go unchallenged". 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. The result was to weaken African-American voting strength elsewhere in North Carolina. But in the 1990s, Republican state legislatures began to create additional black-majority districts that had no geographical logic for the goal of ensuring overall Republican majorities in congressional delegations.

Democrats are rejoicing in Monday's Supreme Court ruling on the First District in northeastern North Carolina and the 12th District, which snaked all the way from our city to Charlotte before the lower-court ruling past year that had it redrawn.

North Carolina's congressional map was redrawn for the 2016 elections after the two districts were struck down by a federal court. The effort was so successful that by 2001, almost every white-majority district in the Deep South had a Republican congressman, while Democrats controlled the relatively small number of black-majority districts.

With regard to District 1, the Court concluded that North Carolina could not reasonably believe that absent a majority voting age African American population in the district, white voters would vote as a bloc to usually defeat the African American voters' candidate of choice. Kagan's approach should allow voting rights plaintiffs to bring more successful racial gerrymandering claims.

On the surface, Justice Elena Kagan's opinion might seem relatively modest - a win for those challenging North Carolina's districts, to be sure, but a straightforward application of established principles about deferring to the factual findings of lower-court judges. For one, Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the liberal side of the court in the 5-3 decision.

And this approach has broader application - especially important given the Supreme Court's landmark 2013 decision overturning key portions of the Voting Rights Act that had required states such as North Carolina to get federal approval before making new voting rules that could hurt minority voters: Last week, the Supreme Court declined to review a North Carolina case involving voter identification and other strict voting laws.

The procedure, given the cynical title "packing and cracking", was meant to create a handful of black-majority districts that would be overwhelmingly Democratic, while drawing the remaining boundaries to ensure that Republicans had comfortable majorities in all other districts. Earlier, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that killed the state's voter ID law, which was created to block black voting.

"The evidence offered at trial...adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district's reconfiguration", Kagan wrote.

The court action comes at a time of intense political division in the state, highlighted by legal battles over moves by the GOP-controlled legislature to pass laws limiting some of the powers of North Carolina's new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. New Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision.

"It's abundantly clear that what the state of North Carolina did in drawing its legislative districts can not withstand constitutional muster", Earls said.

Hours after the ruling, the federal district court in San Antonio now overseeing the Texas case issued an order to the relevant parties asking them to submit briefs detailing how the North Carolina ruling will affect their claims, with a deadline of June 6.