Conservative SCOTUS justices appear inclined to side with South Carolina in racial discrimination challenge to redrawn district map

 October 12, 2023

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case that challenges the alleged manner and motives of how South Carolina's 1st Congressional District was redrawn in the 2021 redistricting map approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature.

The challengers argued, and a district court panel agreed, that the racial demographics of the district were the primary factor in how it was redrawn, but the conservative-leaning justices appeared to be rather skeptical of those claims, according to The Hill.

Instead, they seemed sympathetic to the counterarguments from the state's attorney, who asserted that the admittedly gerrymandered district had been redrawn based solely on partisan considerations in order to ensure the seat remained in GOP hands.

South Carolina's redrawn 1st Congressional District challenged

At issue here, per The Hill, is South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, which was held by Republicans for decades until it was narrowly won by a Democrat in 2018 who then promptly lost a close race in 2020 to Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who then went on to comfortably win re-election in 2022.

According to the state's attorney, the district was redrawn based on past election data in a way to solidify it as a safe Republican seat, but black voters and the state conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit that alleged the district was gerrymandered for racial demographic reasons and was therefore unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

In support of that claim, the challengers argued that roughly 200,000 voters, of which around 30,000 are black, were moved in or out of the 1st District and the neighboring Democrat-held 6th District, both of which encompass the Charleston area, with the end result being that the black voting population in the 1st District remained roughly the same at around 17%.

A federal three-judge panel ruled in favor of the challengers and declared the redrawn district to be unconstitutional, which prompted the appeal of the Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP case to the Supreme Court in order to determine whether the district court judges erred in several ways, including their failure to presume good faith by the legislature, failure to require the provision of alternative maps, failure to "disentangle race from politics," failure to analyze "traditional districting principles" while focusing inordinately on race, and a failure to analyze for "discriminatory effect" before declaring the redrawn map discriminatory, among other things.

Justices dubious about challengers' arguments

According to SCOTUSblog, it seemed clear by the conclusion of the two-hour arguments on Wednesday that a majority of the Supreme Court appeared inclined to support South Carolina and its redrawn 1st District based on the highly skeptical comments and questions posed toward the challengers by the conservative-leaning justices.

Chief Justice John Roberts told the challengers they faced the "very, very difficult" problem of "disentangling race and politics in a situation like this," given how closely correlated race and political affiliation are in this country, and said with some doubt, "You’re trying to carry it without any direct evidence, with no alternative map, with no odd-shaped districts, which we often get in gerrymandering cases, and with a wealth of political data that you’re suggesting your friends on the other side would ignore in favor of racial data."

Roberts further pointed out that despite all of the moving around of voters, Republicans only achieved marginal gains in the redrawn district, and told the challengers of their arguments about racial discrimination, "I’m not saying you can’t get there, but it does seem that this would be breaking new ground in our voting rights jurisprudence."

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito both took issue with the lack of alternative maps from the challengers to show how the district could have been redrawn, with Gorsuch commenting on the ease with which computers can quickly produce various maps and Alito knocking the challengers for using an expert who ran thousands of map simulations without considering political data, and asked, "In a case that’s all about disentangling race and politics, how can we possibly give any weight to an expert report that did not take politics into account at all purportedly?"

The ruling should come well ahead of 2024 election

Per The Hill, Justice Brett Kavanaugh also weighed in to observe that "predominately white" precincts had also been shifted over to the 6th District along with the majority black precincts, suggesting the racial change was a wash, while SCOTUSblog noted that he cast doubt on the challengers' claims that the 2020 election data relied upon by the state legislature was not reliable.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett appeared to suggest that "the plaintiffs bear an exceedingly heavy burden when they’re trying to disentangle race and politics and that we give the legislature a presumption of good faith," while Justice Clarence Thomas seemed to signal that he was inclined to rule that the district was not racially gerrymandered, and therefore the district court judges were erroneous in finding unconstitutional racial discrimination.

Predictably, the three liberal justices made it quite clear that they sided with the challengers against South Carolina's map, but they are obviously outnumbered, and barring any unexpected shifting behind the scenes over the ensuing months, the court appears poised to reverse the district court and uphold the 1st District map at some point next year, just in time for that redrawn map to be used in the 2024 election.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
© 2015 - 2024 Conservative Institute. All Rights Reserved.