The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–3 Monday that the congressional districts the North Carolina legislature enacted in 2011 and had in place for the 2012 and 2014 elections constituted an unconstitutionally racist gerrymander, upholding a lower court ruling.
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the court opinion, invoking the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In affirming the lower-court ruling, Kagan held that the 2011 maps were designed to dilute the power of minority votes by packing African-American voters into Districts 1 and 12.
The 2011 maps resulted in ten of thirteen districts being represented by Republicans. After the federal district court ruled them unconstitutional last February—just a month before the scheduled congressional primaries, which were then rescheduled for June—legislators scrambled to quickly redraw the maps in a manner that maintained the GOP supermajority while obtaining the court's approval.
The new maps are currently embroiled in another lawsuit over whether it's constitutional to gerrymander for partisan rather than racial reasons; a federal court hearing in that case is scheduled for June. In addition, the state's legislative maps are also the subject of a court battle over allegations of racial gerrymandering.
In November, a federal court ordered the legislature to draw new districts and hold new elections in 2017; earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court stayed that order. But it's worth noting that much the same process went into the 2011 congressional districts that went into the legislative districts—so with one having fallen, it's not hard to imagine the other going away, too.
In the bigger picture, writes Richard L. Hasen, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and election law expert, "This decision by Justice Kagan is a major victory for voting rights plaintiffs, who have succeeded in turning the racial gerrymandering cause of action into an effective tool to go after partisan gerrymanders in Southern states."
This article appeared in print with the headline "+BFD."