Race and politics in SCOTUS North Carolina redistricting decision

The games Republicans have been playing with congressional redistricting have and will continue to make it difficult for Democrats to take the House.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court took a small step to remedy that by “striking down two congressional districts in North Carolina because race played too large a role in their creation,” according to an AP story.

The justices ruled that Republicans who controlled the state legislature and governor’s office in 2011 placed too many African-Americans in the two districts. The result was to weaken African-American voting strength elsewhere in North Carolina.

[…]

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the state did not offer compelling justifications to justify its reliance on race in either district.

In making their decision, the Supreme Court justices upheld a lower court decision that had “previously struck down the two districts.”

The court unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling on District 1 in northeastern North Carolina. Kagan wrote that the court will not “approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence.”

The justices split 5-3 on the other district, District 12 in the southwestern part of the state. Justice Clarence Thomas joined the four liberal justices to form a majority. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not part in the case.

If I understand the decision correctly, it would have been okay for North Carolina to redistrict for political reasons, but not predominantly on the basis of race.

The state insisted that race played no role at all in the creation of one district. Instead, the state argued that Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to leave the district in Democratic hands, so that the surrounding districts would be safer for Republicans.

“The evidence offered at trial…adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration,” Kagan wrote.

Alito said in dissent that the evidence instead shows that the district’s borders “are readily explained by political considerations.”

While I applaud the court striking down two districts gerrymandered to weaken the influence of African American voters, I am mystified that gerrymandering with the stated goal of benefitting one political party or another is permissible.

Shouldn’t the goal of drawing congressional boundaries be to encourage fairness in the voting process using some sort of relatively unbiased criteria?

The state of North Carolina appears to be saying in this case that yes they rigged the rules on the basis of partisan politics but not on race, so we’re cool. Crazy.

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