Voting Rights and Democracy

Alexander v. The South Carolina Conference of the NAACP

In Alexander v. The South Carolina Conference of the NAACP, the Supreme Court is considering whether South Carolina’s District 1 is a racial gerrymander and was designed with a racially discriminatory purpose, thereby violating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

Case Summary

In the wake of the 2020 Census, the South Carolina legislature redrew its congressional districts. To suppress the percentage of Black voters in Congressional District (“CD”) 1, the mapmakers adopted a racial target of 17% Black voting-age population (“BVAP”) for the district and moved almost 30,000 Black voters (62% of the Black population in Charleston) out of the district. Plaintiffs challenged the map, and a three-judge panel unanimously held that  CD 1 was a racial gerrymander and was designed with a discriminatory purpose, thereby violating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

On August 18, 2023, CAC filed an amicus brief in support of The South Carolina Conference of the NAACP, arguing that South Carolina’s CD 1 violates the guarantees of equality contained in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

First, we argue that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments forbid racially gerrymandered districts. The Framers chose sweeping language for the Fifteenth Amendment that equally forbids laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on account of race, as well as those that abridge the right by diluting the voting strength of citizens of color and nullifying the effectiveness of their votes. In doing so, the Fifteenth Amendment gave Black citizens a critical weapon to protect themselves from white-dominated legislatures seeking to take away their rights. The Supreme Court, in deciding cases under both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fifteenth Amendment, has repeatedly affirmed that the Constitution does not tolerate racial discrimination in voting or the drawing of district lines.

Second, we argue that the South Carolina legislature clearly ran afoul of these principles in drawing CD 1. Under the Court’s precedents, to bring a racial gerrymandering claim there must be evidence that race was a predominant factor when drawing district lines. If such evidence is present, the districting plan must be held invalid unless it can satisfy strict scrutiny, the most demanding standard of constitutional review. The Supreme Court has previously held that the prioritization of “mechanical racial targets” and manipulation of districts to add or subtract voters based on race was enough to consider it a predominant factor. The same predominant focus on race above all else occurred here. As the court below found, the state’s mapmakers set a racial target of 17% BVAP, and Black voters were deliberately moved to meet that pre-set target. There is no legal basis to second-guess the three-judge court’s intensely local appraisal that race predominated in the drawing of CD 1.

Finally, we refute South Carolina’s claim that the new map is permissible because mapmakers drew CD 1’s lines to advantage Republican candidates. The Court’s racial gerrymandering precedents foreclose this argument, and for good reason: otherwise, state legislatures would have a free pass to make an end-run around the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and enact racially gerrymandered maps whenever it would be politically advantageous to do so, as they did in the wake of the Reconstruction. That racial gerrymandering might be used to try to obtain partisan advantage would not have surprised the Framers of the Fifteenth Amendment because they confronted a political system sharply divided along racial lines, but they nonetheless prohibited any denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the basis of race.

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