The Supreme Court Strikes Down North Carolina’s Racial Gerrymandering In A Landmark Ruling

Senior Contributor
05.22.17 2 Comments

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North Carolina is (unofficially) the GOP’s policy lab in that many of the party’s more controversial policies are first tested there. And that has not been going well when it comes to voting rights. First, North Carolina’s controversial voter ID law couldn’t make it to the Supreme Court, meaning it will remain struck down as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. And now, North Carolina has lost another case in a landmark ruling that will likely force many states to completely redraw their districts.

At issue was whether North Carolina’s first and twelfth districts were racially gerrymandered. The court ruled that both were, which doesn’t surprise observers. What did surprise them was that the 5-3 verdict, with the fifth vote cast by conservative justice Clarence Thomas, has made challenging gerrymandering much easier in court. There are, roughly, two types of gerrymandering that come before the court: Gerrymandering by political party, and gerrymandering by race. The former is illegal, but has a higher burden of proof.

Gerrymandering based on race, however, is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. What makes this Supreme Court ruling such a bombshell is that it essentially states that the argument that districts with an unusually large number of non-white voters cannot use race as a proxy for party, or in other words, maps cannot be drawn on the assumption that non-white people will always vote for the Democrat. Many, many districts across the country have been drawn on exactly this argument, so this opens the door, essentially to a wholesale redrawing of dozens of electoral maps.

The court didn’t make this an absolute: Any challenge will need to demonstrate that race, not party, was the deciding factor and that the VRA applies. But that also lowers the standard for challenging a district in court, which will both make gerrymandering that much harder and will also force states to redraw districts more often as demographics shift. It also did this well before the 2018 elections, making life that much harder for a GOP already facing a tough midterm.

(via Election Law Blog)

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