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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

High Court Limits Reach of Voting Rights Act

(CN) - A state legislative district should not be redrawn to protect a minority group's voting interest unless it would create a majority in that district, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

Pender County (N.C.) sued Gary Bartlett, the executive director of the North Carolina Board of Elections, over the redrawing of the boundaries of N.C. House District 18.

County officials complained that this action violated the North Carolina Constitution's "Whole County Provision," which prohibits the breaking of counties in electoral districts.

Bartlett and other state officials replied that they had to break the county up in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The originally redrawn District 18 included parts of four counties and consisted of a majority of blacks. By the time the plans were approved on the third try, the percentage of blacks had fallen below 50 percent.

The trial court ruled that blacks held a "de facto" majority in the redrawn district, because they could team with crossover whites to elect the candidates of their choice.

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the decision, finding that a minority group needed to have a majority in a district in order to qualify for protection under the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Kennedy affirmed the decision.

"Because they form only 39 percent of District 18's voting-age population," Kennedy wrote, "African-Americans standing alone have no better or worse opportunity to elect a candidate that any other group with the same voting strength.

"Recognizing a claim," Kennedy added, "where minority voters cannot elect the candidate of their choice based on their own votes and not assistance from others would grant special protection to their right to form political coalitions that is not authorized."

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