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High Court Upholds South Carolina Redistricting, Displacing Black Voters

The U.S. Supreme Court has reinstated South Carolina’s redrawn congressional map, declaring it not unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. Justice Samuel Alito authored the 6-3 opinion, which overturned a lower court’s finding that the map had illegally removed 30,000 Black voters to favor a white Republican candidate in the 1st Congressional District.

The decision has prompted strong reactions, including from Devon Ombres, senior director for Courts and Legal Policy at the Center for American Progress.

“This ruling allows South Carolina to strip power away from Black voters and implement a congressional map that is clearly racially gerrymandered,” Ombres stated. “The majority cherry-picked evidence disregarded inconvenient proof of racial gerrymandering and substituted its own judgment of the facts instead of deferring to the court below. Worse, the majority makes it clear that, in the future, it will be more difficult to challenge unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

The case, Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P., No. 22-807, presented a complex challenge of distinguishing the roles of race and partisanship in drawing voting maps, especially as Black voters predominantly support Democrats. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Columbia, S.C., had ruled in early 2023 that the state’s First Congressional District, drawn after the 2020 census, violated the Constitution by prioritizing race. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling now overturns that decision.

The lower court had held its decision while Republican lawmakers appealed to the Supreme Court, with the parties urging a resolution by January 1. After the deadline passed, the panel ruled in March that the 2024 election would proceed under the contested map, acknowledging practical constraints. “With the primary election procedures rapidly approaching, the appeal before the Supreme Court still pending and no remedial plan in place,” the panel wrote, “the ideal must bend to the practical.”

The disputed district, centered in Charleston, has been a Republican stronghold since 1980, except for 2018. The 2020 race was notably close, leading Republican lawmakers to strengthen the district’s Republican tilt post-census. The judges ruled that this goal was achieved by “bleaching African American voters out of the Charleston County portion of Congressional District No. 1,” moving 62 percent of Black voters to the Sixth District, represented by James E. Clyburn, a Black Democrat.

Republican lawmakers admitted that the district was redrawn for partisan gains, but challengers, represented by the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued that race was the primary factor. “That predominant reliance on race is impermissible even if mapmakers used race as a proxy for politics,” their brief stated.

Justice Elena Kagan, joined by the court’s other liberal justices, dissented. Kagan contended that the ruling encourages state lawmakers to use race as a proxy for partisan objectives. “Go right ahead, this Court says to States today. Go ahead, though you have no recognized justification for using race, such as to comply with statutes ensuring equal voting rights,” Kagan wrote. “Go ahead, though you are (at best) using race as a shortcut to bring about partisan gains—to elect more Republicans in one case, more Democrats in another.”

Due to the South Carolina case’s reliance on the equal protection clause of the Constitution, it differs from a comparable Alabama case that is subject to the Voting Rights Act. Ombres underscored the broader implications, stating, “Congress must pass legislation to revitalize the Voting Rights Act to ensure that the will of American voters matters—not just the will of those already in power.”



The Reporter Newspaper
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