Case Summary

Despite neither having a majority black voting-age population, North Carolina's 1st and 12th congressional districts both consistently elected the candidate preferred by African-American voters prior to the 2011 redistricting cycle. When the state redrew these districts in 2011, District 1 needed roughly 100,000 additional people to satisfy the one person, one vote principle, and so parts of heavily black areas were added to District 1 changing its BVAP from 48.6% to 52.7%, while District 12's new boundaries changed its BVAP from 43.8% to 50.7%. Registered voters in each of those districts filed a federal lawsuit challenging District 1 and 12 as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina found that the evidence showed that racial considerations predominated when drawing the new boundaries of those districts, but the State argued that these race-based decisions were justified in order to avoid vote dilution under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, upholding the district court's finding that race predominated when drawing District 1 and 12's new boundaries and that the State's purported interest in complying with the Voting Rights Act did not justify those racial considerations. The Court held that while compliance with the Voting Rights Act can serve as a compelling interest to justify race-based redistricting decisions, a State invoking such a justification must sufficiently demonstrate that it had good reasons for believing the VRA required the actions it took. In this case, North Carolina failed to make such a showing because they failed to conduct any legislative inquiry into whether drawing those districts without regard to race would have resulted in a violation of Section 2 or Section 5 of the VRA. Additionally, in rejecting an alternative argument made by the State, the Court held that when both race and politics are competing explanations of a district's boundaries, plaintiffs are not required to introduce an alternative map to demonstrate that a state's redistricting objectives could be achieved while improving racial balance. Such evidence can be crucial, but it is not the only means to refute a State's defense that politics and not race drove their decisions.

Significance: In order to invoke compliance with the Voting Rights Act as the justification for their predominant use of race when drawing district lines, the State must show that they had good cause to believe that violations of the Voting Rights Act would have resulted if race was not the predominant consideration.

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina - 1:13-cv-00949

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 15-1262 [137 S.Ct. 1455 (2017)]