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Supreme Court Approves Racially Discriminatory Congressional Map in South Carolina

Originally published by Common Cause

Today’s decision from the Supreme Court allows a racially gerrymandered congressional voting map to remain in place in South Carolina, reversing a unanimous three-judge district court decision that found the existing map violated the rights of Black South Carolinians.  

The case, South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Alexander, challenged South Carolina’s enacted congressional map as a racial gerrymander, arguing that it was created with a discriminatory purpose to disenfranchise Black voters in the state. The challenge centers on South Carolina’s First Congressional District and argued that the map targets and splits Black communities to dilute their voting power.  

A unanimous three-judge panel agreed that the voting map was a racial gerrymander in an early 2023 decision, ordering South Carolina to redraw its congressional lines. The federal district court found that the targeting and moving of Black voters out of the First Congressional District to diminish their voting power based on race was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.  

South Carolina appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Justice Alito wrote the Court’s 6-3 majority opinion. Today’s decision will have troubling consequences for advocates and communities challenging racially gerrymandered maps by setting an even higher bar to determine when a map is racially gerrymandered.  

Alito argues that the map’s targeting of Black voters was simply due to partisanship, and that these partisan goals can explain the state legislature’s decisions – despite South Carolina’s specific focus on changing the First District’s Black population and treating the Black communities of the region differently than white residents who vote similarly. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019) that federal courts cannot police partisan gerrymandering.   

The majority opinion rejects the deference historically given to the district court’s factual findings and holds that the district court erred by not enforcing a new, even higher bar that plaintiffs must meet to prove a racial gerrymandering claim. Alito emphasizes a “presumption of good faith” when assessing decisions of the state legislature and increases plaintiffs’ evidentiary burden to counter that presumption – demanding an alternative map that would achieve the state legislature’s partisan gerrymandering goals without the racial impact.  

As Justice Kagan wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Sotomayor and Jackson, the majority here creates “special rules to specifically disadvantage suits to remedy race-based redistricting,” and thus “this ‘odious’ practice of sorting citizens, built on racial generalizations and exploiting racial divisions, will continue.” 

Despite continued attacks on voting rights and fair redistricting from our nation’s highest court, Common Cause continues to fight for fair redistricting across the nation – including challenging racially discriminatory redistricting, including in states such as FloridaGeorgia, and most recently, North Carolina, where we are challenging North Carolina’s racially discriminatory voting maps that severely diminish the voting power of Black voters in the state.  

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