The Supreme Court struck down two gerrymandered districts in North Carolina, ruling they were created to group voters based on race rather than political affiliation, limiting the electoral power of black voters in the state.
The high court rejected state lawmakers’ claim that the districts, near urban areas of Raleigh and Charlotte, were drawn to create partisan advantage, rather than to group high concentrations of voters based on race. Grouping voters based on political affiliation is legal.
The case could have far-reaching effects on gerrymandering cases across the country.
On District 1, which was 52.7 percent black when it was created in 2010, the ruling was unanimous. The vote on the second district, District 12, which was 50.7 percent black, was split 5–3, with conservative Justice Clarence Thomas voting with the more liberal justices to reject the district. Justice Anthony Kennedy, usually the swing vote in the court, was in dissent, along with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that “racial considerations predominated in designing both District 1 and District 12.” She also noted that District 12 was “making its fifth(!) appearance before this Court.”
Both districts have since been redrawn. The state voted in new districts in the 2016 elections, with Republicans maintaining their 10–3 advantage in the new districts.
“This is a major win in the battle for fair election districts,” League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said in a statement. “The Court rejected North Carolina’s claim that a racial gerrymander can be justified by arguing that it is a political gerrymander, which is allowed by law.”
Reverend William Barber, the president of the North Carolina NAACP — who is leaving that post shortly to revive Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign — said that the ruling shows that the state “engaged in systemic racism and cheated to win elections,” according to the Associated Press.
In a statement to local news outlet WRAL, North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes complained of what he sees as continually changing rules on redistricting: “Our position continues to be the same as the Obama Justice Department on this issue, which pre-cleared these districts as fair and legal. I don’t know how any legislature can perform this task when the rules change constantly from case to case, often after the fact.”