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Ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas sided with four liberal justices in the 5-3 majority decision.
Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down North Carolina’s congressional map.
The court found the that the Republican legislature was unconstitutional when it used race to draw the district lines, which reduced the voting power of minorities in the state.
Ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas sided with four liberal justices in the 5-3 majority decision. The court ruled that legislators packed African American voters into two districts in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in April, did not participate in the ruling.
Election law expert Rick Hasen wrote on his blog: "This decision by Justice [Elena] 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. That Justice Kagan got Justice Thomas not only to vote this way but to sign onto the opinion (giving it precedential value) is a really big deal."
The Republican majority in North Carolina’s legislature drew the congressional district map in 2011. It added more African Americans to two districts that had significant black populations and had consistently elected the Democratic representatives since the 1990s.
Voters in those districts sued, claiming that the lawmakers had intentionally reduced African American voter turnout in other parts of North Carolina. States are generally not allowed to use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines.
To justify their changes to one of those districts, the 1st Congressional District (CD1), Republican lawmakers claimed they were complying with the mandate of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which states that minority voters must be able to elect representatives of their choosing. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the legal team defending the Republican map argued that past voting behavior in CD1 could not predict future voting, particularly since the 2011 map added nearly 100,000 people to the district. In February of last year, a federal district court disagreed and ruled that the use of race in drawing the CD1 was unconstitutional.
"Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the VRA, that latitude cannot rescue District 1," Kagan wrote. "Neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake."
Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the state’s argument that the VRA could be used to pack black voters into a district was not supported by the law.
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the 2011 map has served Republicans well over the years in North Carolina, even as it has made its way through state and federal court.
In 2012 and 2014, when the statewide vote was closely divided, Republicans won 10 of the 13 House seats. And, last year, Republicans managed to retain that 10-3 advantage, even though U.S. President Donald Trump won the state by the slimmest of margins, with Democrat Rory Cooper winning the governorship.
Related tweet added by Juan Cole:
Jesus, look at that map. They literally drew lines around every black person in the state even if the district looks like a squiggle. https://t.co/89zmE6ZINO
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) May 22, 2017
Related video added by Juan Cole: