Partisan or Racial? Gerrymandering in South Carolina
On October 11, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Alexander v. South Carolina Conference of the NAACP.
Following the 2020 US Census, South Carolina’s legislature adopted a congressional map with new legislative districts. In response, the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit, alleging that the map was unconstitutional due to its racially gerrymandering nature. The plaintiff’s statement claimed that the map was the “latest instance in [the] state’s long, painful history of racial discrimination that must be remedied.”
Every 10 [b]years, legislative and congressional district lines are redrawn to match population changes as indicated by the census. Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating such lines to increase the influence of certain groups of voters at the expense of others. Voting power can be diluted when voters that tend to favor a particular party are reassigned to be the large majority within a few districts or an insignificant minority within many districts. Redistricting is often done by the majority party in state legislatures.
In January, a federal three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the map was a racial gerrymander with respect to the 1st Congressional District and violated the rights of Black voters under the 14th and 15th Amendments. Specifically, the court found that the reassignment of around 30,000 eligible Black voters within the 1st district to the neighboring, majority-Black 6th district was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th. Rep. James Clyburn, a Black democratic legislator, has been representing the 6th district for over 30 years. In contrast, the 1st district has been contested within recent years. Prior to the implementation of the map, Republican Rep. Nancy Mace won by a margin of one percentage point in 2020; the use of the new district lines increased the margin to 14 percentage points. The court claimed that both the use of race as a predominant consideration and the use of racially discriminatory intent within the formation of the 1st district was unlawful. According to the court, the legislature used a racial target of 17 percent and abandoned redistricting principles to “bleach” Black voters and reduce their voting power. The State was ordered to redraw its congressional map.[c]
Following the federal ruling, the State appealed, stating [d]that the intent of the map was a partisan gerrymander. Any racial effect was collateral consequence. The Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause, partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable in federal courts. However, race is not permitted to be used as a proxy for political characteristics, such as partisanship. The plaintiffs state that the South Carolina state legislature divided Black voters with no compelling reason. The intent, according to the plaintiffs, was to dilute Black voting power.
In a joint comment, the South Carolina NAACP and Taiwan Scott, the plaintiffs, stated that “for too long, our state’s electoral process has silenced us and severely weakened the ability of our communities to be fully and fairly represented and accounted for.”
The Supreme Court will hold hearings on October 11 and release a holding following the hearings.