SCOTUS ruling in Cooper v. Harris will impact outstanding redistricting challenges in North Carolina

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming a lower court’s ruling in Cooper v. Harris earlier today, holding that race predominated without justification in two of North Carolina’s U.S. Congressional Districts as drawn in 2011. It was a 5 -3 decision with Justice Gorsuch not participating.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan explained, “Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the [Voting Rights Act,] that latitude cannot rescue District 1. We by no means “insist that a state legislature, when redistricting, determine precisely what percent minority population [§2 of the VRA] demands.” But neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.”

“We already have new Congressional Districts in North Carolina. What I find most significant is that the Legislature made the same legal mistake and used race the same way in drawing the state’s House and Senate districts. This opinion, with Justice Thomas joining the majority, must mean those districts are also unconstitutional,” Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

There are two other North Carolina redistricting cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court – North Carolina v. Covington and Dickson v. Rucho, an appeal from the North Carolina Supreme Court. Both of them have been put on the Supreme Court’s conference calendar for May 25. It is likely that the Court will issue orders in the two pending cases early next week.

“This is good news for all North Carolinians because our democracy is strongest when we have fair districts that do not go block by block to separate voters on the basis of race,” added Anita Earls.

The two districts in question – NC 1 and NC 12 – were redrawn in February 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly to comply with the lower court’s order. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that the state congressional districts can not be reverted back to their pre-February 2016 lines.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the Campaign Legal Center have filed a challenge to the maps drawn in February 2016 in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho, challenging them as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. That trial is set to be heard in a federal court in Greensboro in June.

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