Voting Rights and Democracy

RELEASE: At Supreme Court Oral Argument This Morning, Justices Debated A Textbook Case of Racial Gerrymandering

WASHINGTON, DC – Following oral argument at the Supreme Court this morning in Alexander v. The South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a case in which the Court is considering whether South Carolina’s District 1 is a racial gerrymander that contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment, Constitutional Accountability Center Human Rights, Civil Rights & Citizenship Program Director David Gans issued the following reaction:

Racial gerrymandering is a stain on our Constitution’s promise of a multiracial democracy in which all persons are entitled to equal representation regardless of race.  In this case, the South Carolina legislature breached this core constitutional promise, gratuitously moving 30,000 Black voters from Charleston County to achieve a racial target and ensure a map tilted in favor of Republicans.  This is patently unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s precedents.  A state may not use race as a means of obtaining a partisan advantage, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held.  Indeed, because the law is so clear, South Carolina’s entire appeal invites the Court to second-guess the trial court’s comprehensive findings made after hearing eight days of trial testimony.  As a number of justices emphasized, this is not the Court’s role.  Unless the trial court’s findings rest on clear error, they must be affirmed.

During this morning’s argument, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that striking down District 1 as a racial gerrymander “would be breaking new ground,” stressing that the challengers were relying exclusively on circumstantial evidence.  But Supreme Court precedent has long permitted proof of racial discrimination based on such evidence because outright admissions that race predominated in districting are a rarity.  In this case, as Leah Aden of the NAACP LDF forcefully argued, the proof was overwhelming: the use of a racial target to remove tens of thousands of Black voters from their home district and to separate Black and white voters on account of race violates the constitutional guarantee of equality.  As Aden stressed, the unrebutted evidence showed that Black voters were more likely to be moved than white Democrats, as the mapmakers attempted to bleach District 1.

Striking down District 1 as a textbook racial gerrymander would not make new law, but simply confirm what has long been settled: racial gerrymandering is incompatible with the promise of a multiracial democracy enshrined in the Constitution.

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Resources:

Case page in Alexander v. SC Conf. of NAACP: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/alexander-et-al-v-the-south-carolina-conference-of-the-naacp/

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a nonpartisan think tank and public interest law firm dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text, history, and values. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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