Supreme Court sides with Republicans in South Carolina redistricting case

Washington — The Supreme Court on Thursday maintained the lines of a congressional district in South Carolina that a lower court had invalidated as an unlawful racial gerrymander, delivering a win to Republican mapmakers who said they used politics, not race, as the predominant factor when drawing the district bounds.

The 6-3 ruling from the high court reverses the ruling from a three-judge district court panel that found GOP lawmakers improperly used race when designing Congressional District 1, represented by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace.

In a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court’s conservative justices said that the district court’s findings were “clearly erroneous.”

South Carolina Republicans and the state chapter of the NAACP had asked the justices to issue their ruling by January to ensure clarity for voters in the 2024 elections. Arguments in the case were held in October and were among the first of the court’s new term. 

But as January came and went with no decision, GOP officials requested three-judge district court panel that oversaw the case to pause its own January 2023 decision invalidating the lines Congressional District 1, which it agreed to do in March. The order from the judges allowed the state to use the map that it found was racially gerrymandered for the upcoming congressional contests. Statewide primaries are set for June 11.

South Carolina’s congressional map

Located along South Carolina’s southeastern coast and anchored in Charleston County, voters in Congressional District 1 have elected Republicans to the House from 1980 to 2016. Democrat Joe Cunningham won the seat in 2018 in an upset, but Mace claimed a narrow victory in the following congressional election.

During the redistricting process that began in 2021, Republican lawmakers wanted to give the district a stronger GOP tilt. To accomplish this goal, they moved more than 140,000 residents out of the district and into Congressional District 6, long represented by Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn.

The new voting map was enacted in January 2022, and Mace won reelection that November by a wider margin than two years earlier. But the NAACP’s South Carolina chapter and a voter in the district challenged the boundaries of Congressional District 1 as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and alleged the district was designed with racially discriminatory intent.

After an eight-day trial, the three-judge panel agreed and concluded that GOP lawmakers impermissibly used a racial target and sorted voters predominantly by race to achieve a partisan outcome.

The judges found that Republican mapmakers set a target of 17% Black voting-age population in Congressional District 1 and moved more than 30,000 Black residents into Congressional District 6 to produce a stronger Republican lean. The district court blocked the state from holding an election with the GOP-drawn map for Congressional District 1.

South Carolina Republicans appealed the panel’s decision last February and argued the district court failed to disentangle race from politics. The lawmakers said politics was the main motivating factor they  considered during redistricting, which is permissible after the Supreme Court in 2019 said federal courts could not hear claims of partisan gerrymandering, the practice of drawing voting maps to entrench the party in power.

The battle over Congressional District 1 is the latest to come before the high court that arose after the 2021 redistricting process. The justices in September 2023 declined requests by Alabama officials to use a congressional map drawn by Republicans in the state in the 2024 elections, which a lower court said likely violated federal law. 

That decision came after the high court upheld a ruling that invalidated the boundaries of the state’s seven congressional districts. As a result, federal judges in October selected a new congressional map that will give the state a second district where Black voters make up a significant portion of the electorate. 

Similar disputes over the voting lines in Georgia, Louisiana and Florida have also played out, and a new map crafted in Louisiana could give Democrats an advantage in the November elections, when Republicans are seeking to hold onto their control of the House. The Supreme Court earlier this month cleared the way for Louisiana to use for the upcoming elections a congressional map that includes a second district where the majority of voters are Black, giving them the opportunity to elect their favored candidate.

Original CBS News Link</a