The Supreme Court gave voting rights activists in North Carolina an important victory this morning, upholding a lower court ruling that the state legislature packed African-American voters into two congressional districts in an effort to dilute their voting strength elsewhere.
The 5-3 decision, written by Justice Elena Kagan, attracted an unusual coalition. Justice Clarence Thomas, widely considered the court’s most conservative justice, joined with the court’s four liberals in the judgment.
The Raleigh News and Observer reported that is not clear how the decision may impact questions over the districts used to elect the state legislature, and whether lawmakers will be required to draw new maps and hold legislative elections in 2017.
North Carolina adopted new congressional district maps in February 2016 to address the lower court’s ruling. Those maps, which were used to elect members of Congress last fall, maintained the delegation’s 10-3 split favoring Republicans.
Common Cause is pursuing a related redistricting case in North Carolina. Common Cause v. Rucho accuses the Republican-led legislature of unconstitutionally configuring districts to discriminate against Democratic voters.
"We applaud the Supreme Court for clearly affirming that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional," Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said shortly after the decision was announced. "Sadly, state lawmakers responded to rulings against their unconstitutional racial gerrymandering by then gerrymandering along partisan lines. The result has been rigged elections that continue to deny North Carolina voters of their constitutional right to have a voice in choosing their representatives. That's why challenging partisan gerrymandering is so important now. We are hopeful that the court will find that like racial gerrymandering, partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional."
Issues: Voting and Elections