Case Summary

Under North Carolina's 1991 legislative redistricting plan, District 18 was drawn as a majority-minority district with an African American voting age population (AAVAP) above 50% in order to satisfy Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. When the state redrew its districts in 2003, District 18's AAVAP had dropped below 50%, and so, to comply with Section 2, the state decided to split Pender County in order to give District 18 an AAVAP of 39.36% so that African-American voters had the potential to join with majority voters, who tended to vote similarly to minority voters, to elect the minority group's candidate of choice. Pender County, among others, filed suit against various state officials, alleging that the 2003 plan violated the North Carolina Constitution's "Whole County Provision," with the state-official defendants arguing that the county splits were necessary to avoid violating Section 2.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court held for the state-official-defendants on the grounds that Section 2 does not require state officials to create a majority-minority district where a racial minority makes up less than 50% of the redrawn district's voting-age population. The Court explained that a "crossover" district, in which the minority makes up less than a majority of the voting age population but is large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from majority voters who cross over to support the minority's preferred candidate, cannot satisfy the first Thornburg v. Gingles precondition that requires a showing that minorities have less opportunity than others to elect representatives of their choice. To afford minority voters additional support to elect their candidate of choice when they could not do so based on their votes alone would be to impermissibly grant them special protections not authorized by the Voting Rights Act.

Significance: In order to satisfy the Thornburg v. Gingles precondition relating to "compactness" for Section 2 purposes, the minority group must be able to be drawn into a district where their group makes up more than 50% of the voting age population therein.

Case Library

Superior Court of North Carolina, Wake County - 04-CVS-06966 [formerly Pender County v. Bartlett]

Supreme Court of North Carolina - No. 103A06 [361 N.C. 491 (N.C. 2007)]

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 07-689 [556 U.S. 1 (2009)]