North Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Racially Gerrymandered Districts

Today the North Carolina Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling upholding North Carolina’s state legislative and Congressional redistricting plans.  The North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC and dozens of individual voters sued the state over the redistricting plans in November 2011.  The case has been pending with the Supreme Court for a year.  Plaintiffs alleged that the redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate violated the state constitution’s “Whole County Provision” and were racial gerrymanders that violated the federal and state constitutions.  A three-judge panel upheld the plans in July 2013, and the case was argued in front of the state supreme court in early January 2014.  The Court ruled today that the legislature was justified in its attempts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and that the plans do not violate the state constitutional whole county requirements.

“The Plaintiffs in this case intend to continue their efforts to vindicate their rights.  It is simply wrong for the legislature to carve up this state on the basis of race in these circumstances.” said Anita Earls, lead attorney for the North Carolina NAACP Plaintiffs.

“This is a disappointing development, but we will not give up in our fight to ensure that redistricting in this state is conducted in a fair and legal way,” added Brenda Rogers of the League of Women Voters.  Plaintiffs plan to seek review by the United States Supreme Court as soon as possible so that there will be time for new redistricting plans to be drawn before the 2016 elections.

Justice Beasley’s dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Hudson, notes that the lower court was in error and that, “The majority compounds the error by ignoring altogether the trial court’s explicit findings of fact and by too generously characterizing the General Assembly’s enacted plan. The majority’s departure from this Court’s usual course of adherence to our settled principles of appellate review could create a stain of suspicion among the citizens of the state regarding the actions of their elected officials and bodies of government—both legislative and judicial.”  The dissent would have remanded the case to the trial court to correctly apply strict scrutiny under federal constitutional doctrine that prohibits racial gerrymandering.

The North Carolina Supreme Court opinion is available here.