(CN) — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down two congressional districts in North Carolina holding that state Republicans gerrymandered them to weaken the strength of the black vote.
The districts at issue were created in 2011, and have been redrawn since, but even with the new congressional map, the GOP continued to control 10 congressional seats compared the three held by Democrats.
Writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan said the state failed to offer compelling justification for why it so deliberately grouped black voters into the districts at the center of the legal dispute.
As explained the ruling, states do have to consider race when they draw the lines for a whole host of political district, but they can’t make it the sole factor — without strong justification — in determining where district lines will go.
The fight over North Carolina districts — the First and Twelfth Congressional districts — was earlier wage in both state and federal court.
North Carolina prevailed in state court, where a trial judge rejected a claim from several civil rights groups that the districts were unlawfully gerrymandered.
The North Carolina Supreme Court later affirmed that decision.
State lawmakers then tried to have the federal lawsuit tossed on the grounds that the plaintiffs were members of the same organizations that had just its case in state court.
But Kagan said the federal court found a reasonable distinction between the two cases and allowed the federal case to move forward.
A three-judge panel in the federal court later struck down the two districts.
On Monday, the justices unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling in regard to District 1 in northeastern North Carolina.
In doing so, Kagan said the court would not “approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.
“Accordingly, we uphold the District Court’s conclusion that North Carolina’s use of race as the predominant factor in designing District 1 does not withstand strict scrutiny,” she wrote.
But the court split, 5-2, on the other district, District 12, which is located in the southwestern part of the state.
Justice Clarence Thomas joined the four liberal justices to form a majority.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented.
Justice Neil Gorsuch did not part in the decision.
In regard to District 12, the state maintained the race played no role in the creation of the district. It argued the Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to make surrounding districts safer for GOP candidates.
But the high court majority simply didn’t buy that argument.
“The evidence at trial — including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations — adequately supports the District Court’s conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for District 12’s reconfiguration,” Kagan wrote.
“[C]ontrary to the State’s view, the court had no call to dismiss this challenge just because the plaintiffs did not proffer an alternative design for District 12,” she added.
But Justice Alito disagreed, holding in his dissent that the evidence instead shows that the district’s borders “are readily explained by political considerations.”