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Voting maps in South Carolina get Supreme Court review for discrimination

A lower court found that Republicans had “exiled” 30,000 Black voters, but lawmakers say their focus was on strengthening their party not discrimination. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court agreed to decide a redistricting fight ahead of the 2024 elections, taking up a case Monday to decide if South Carolina’s congressional districts are due a redraw for discriminating against Black voters. 

South Carolina last redrew its congressional maps in 2020 to incorporate census changes. In the election prior, Democrat Joe Cunningham the state’s 1st Congressional District in an upset, becoming the first member of his party to flip a seat in South Carolina in 30 years. In 2020, Republican Nancy Mace would win back the mantle, but only by a slim margin. 

When the GOP-controlled Legislature conducted redistricting, it aimed at making District 1 more Republican-leaning. Lawmakers claim they used election data and traditional criteria to do so, but civil rights groups claimed that mapmakers adopted a racial target for the Black voters in the district. 

The restructured District 1 moved 62% of Black Charlestonians into another district. This change meant District 6 would now stretch 125 miles, and District 1 would be broken up into sections that would make it impossible to drive from one end of the district to the other without crossing into a different district. 

“It is a textbook example of unlawfully ‘plac[ing] a significant number of voters within or without a particular district’ predominantly on the basis of race,” Leah Aden, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund representing the groups, wrote in a brief before the court. 

The change left Mace to go from a slim victory in 2020 to win by 14 percentage points in November. 

Civil rights groups sued, claiming the new maps reflected racial gerrymandering and intentional vote dilution. A three-judge panel evaluated the maps during an eight-day trial and found that District 1 was a racial gerrymander and designed with discriminatory purposes. 

“The strategies ... ultimately exiled over 30,000 African American citizens from their previous district and created a stark racial gerrymander of Charleston County and the City of Charleston,” the panel found.

Quoting trial testimony, the judges — two of them nominated by President Barack Obama and one by President Joe Biden — emphasized that the changes “were ‘dramatic’ and ‘created tremendous disparity’ in the placement of African Americans within Congressional Districts Nos. 1 and 6 in Charleston County."

Aden at the NAACP summarized from the ruling that mapmakers had "adopted a racial target of 17% Black voting age-population for CD1, and achieved it by unnecessarily moving tens of thousands of Black voters and departing from traditional districting principles." 

Such discrimination is proscribed under the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court severely limited the statute's reach in Shelby County v. Holder. In another redistricting fight out of Alabama, the conservative supermajority is expected to issue a ruling that could further weaken protections against discrimination when forming congressional districts. 

Republican lawmakers claim the panel’s analysis was tainted at every turn because the judges never applied the presumption of good faith or looked at the district or the assembly’s intent as a whole. 

“These errors predestined the outcome because they wrongly equated the purported racial effect in Charleston County with a racially predominant purpose across District 1,” John Gore, an attorney with Jones Day representing the lawmakers, wrote in a brief before the court (emphasis in original). 

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Categories / Appeals, Government, Politics

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