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Cooper, et al. v. Harris and Bowser (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

READ CAC’S BRIEF IN Cooper, et al. v. Harris and Bowser

In Cooper v. Harris, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the North Carolina legislature’s use of a fixed racial quota to draw majority-minority congressional districts violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

Following the 2010 Census, the North Carolina legislature redrew its congressional districts and created majority-minority districts in Congressional District 1 (“CD 1”) and Congressional District 12 (“CD 12”). The legislature drew district lines to ensure that the African American voting age population was at least 50% plus one person in both CD 1 and CD 12 – despite the fact that African American voters in those districts had successfully elected their candidates of choice even when their percentage of the voting- age population was less than 50%. A three-judge district court held that CD 1 and CD 12 were unconstitutional, and that by using race as the “only nonnegotiable criterion” for redistricting, the legislature had violated the Fourteenth Amendment.  The state appealed directly to the Supreme Court.  On June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court noted probable jurisdiction over the appeal.

On October 19, 2016, CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of those challenging the redistricting, arguing that the North Carolina legislature’s redistricting based on an inflexible racial quota violates the guarantees of equality contained in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. As we explained in our brief, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments prohibit discrimination in voting and the drawing of district lines, and it violates these principles to over-pack minorities into certain districts, thereby curbing their influence elsewhere.  By using a fixed mechanical quota and subordinating traditional districting criteria, North Carolina made race the predominant factor in drawing its district lines, and it was therefore required to satisfy strict scrutiny, the most stringent standard of judicial review.  Although the North Carolina legislature argued that the fixed racial quota was necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting, the Voting Rights Act requires a state to consider all relevant circumstances, not rely upon fixed numerical quotas.  Where, as here, African Americans had enjoyed previous electoral successes even though they did not constitute a majority of the district, the Voting Rights Act does not require the drawing of bizarrely shaped, noncompact majority-minority districts using a fixed racial quota.

The Court heard oral argument on December 6, 2016.  On May 24, 2017, the Court, as CAC had urged, struck down the drawing of both districts and held, 5-3, that the legislature’s discriminatory redistricting violated the Equal Protection Clause. Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan explained that the district court had correctly determined that race was the predominant factor in drawing district lines, and thus the districts were subject to strict scrutiny.  The majority dismissed North Carolina’s argument that the lines were drawn for partisan reasons, finding that the equal protection guarantee does not permit the use of race as a proxy for politics.  Furthermore, Justice Kagan explained that the state had failed to satisfy strict scrutiny because it did not have “good reasons” to believe that the district lines were necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Briefs filed by CAC: