FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 25, 2015
Contact: Anita Earls, Southern Coalition for Social Justice 919-794-4198 (Office)
In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.
The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Justice Breyer, for the majority, wrote “[t]hat Alabama expressly adopted and applied a policy of prioritizing mechanical racial targets above all other districting criteria (save one-person, one-vote) provides evidence that race motivated the drawing of particular lines in multiple districts in the State.”
The Court went on to hold that such race-based redistricting must be subjected to strict scrutiny. The central legal principle in determining if such districts meet constitutional muster is the Court’s conclusion that “Section 5 [of the Voting Rights Act] does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority percentage. It requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice.”
Not a single Justice approved, defended, or found justified the Alabama Legislature’s practice of packing black voters to achieve a particular numerical majority in legislative districts.
Plaintiffs in the North Carolina redistricting case have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the redistricting plans drawn in this state, which, they contend, employed two race-based criteria as “safe harbors” – a racial proportionality goal for the number of majority-black districts that must be drawn in each plan and a requirement that each district must have greater than 50% black voting age population. “The decision in the Alabama case makes clear that the Voting Rights Act does not require, and the Constitution does not permit, the use of mechanical racial targets in redistricting, as was done in North Carolina” said Anita Earls, an attorney for some of the Plaintiffs in the North Carolina case.
The North Carolina case is Dickson v. Rucho, No. 14-839. A case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District also pending in the Supreme Court, is Cantor v. Personhuballah, No. 14-518.