Washington — The Supreme Court said Monday that it will take up a bid by GOP legislative leaders in South Carolina to reinstate voting lines for one of the state's congressional districts that were invalidated as an unlawful racial gerrymander.
The dispute arose from the redistricting plan that was enacted by South Carolina's GOP-led state legislature after the 2020 Census, which gave Republicans an advantage in Congressional District 1, a GOP-majority district currently represented by Rep. Nancy Mace that stretches from Charleston down to Hilton Head Island.
Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham represented the district for one term, and he went on to lose to Mace in 2020. Mace won reelection in November.
After the new congressional map was signed into law by GOP Gov. Henry McMaster in January 2022, voting rights groups challenged voting lines drawn for three of the congressional districts, including District 1, alleging they were racially gerrymandered and intentionally drawn to dilute the power of Black voters.
Following an eight-day trial, a three-judge federal district court panel unanimously ruled in January that Congressional District 1 constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander because race was the predominant factor in the adoption of the redistricting plan.
The court found the mapmakers adopted a racial target of 17% Black voting-age population for the district, and achieved that goal by moving roughly 30,000 Black voters from the 1st District into Congressional District 6, represented by Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn.
South Carolina Republicans then turned to the Supreme Court, arguing that the lower court failed to presume the good faith of the state's General Assembly when drawing the voting lines, and the voting rights groups failed to show that race, rather than politics, explained the lines of District 1.
"If left uncorrected, the panel's decision would place state legislatures in an impossible bind: it would improperly turn the purported racial effect, in a single line, of pursuing political goals and traditional criteria into racial predominance across an entire district," they told the Supreme Court in a filing.
The South Carolina Republicans urged the Supreme Court to schedule oral argument for October and issue a decision by Jan. 1 "to ensure clarity for the 2024 election cycle."
In urging the Supreme Court to turn down the case, the voting rights groups argued the lower court correctly found that the Republican map-drawers used a racial target of 17% Black voting-age population when drawing Congressional District 1.
The GOP legislative leaders, they told the court, "undertook a herculean effort to offset every Black voter added to CD1 (from the additions of portions of majority-White and Republican-leaning Berkeley, Beaufort, and Dorchester counties) by removing disproportionate numbers of Black Charlestonians. Maintaining the racial target — while Defendants publicly disclaimed a commitment to having three 'strong Republican performing counties' in CD1 — demanded moving a disproportionate number of Black Charlestonians out of CD1."
The dispute is the latest to come before the Supreme Court involving voting rights and racial gerrymandering. Pending before the justices is a challenge to Alabama's congressional voting lines, and a decision upholding the GOP-drawn map could further weaken the Voting Rights Act.
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