Supreme Court Strikes Down North Carolina Race-Based Districting

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. / REUTERS


The Supreme Court sided with a lower court on Monday in finding that North Carolina had illegally drawn two of its voting districts to over-include black citizens, unfairly and illegally reducing their voting power.

The Court affirmed the lower court's finding in Cooper v. Harris that North Carolina used race as a "predominant factor" in drawing the 1st and 12th District of North Carolina, the Hill reports. Lacking a compelling reason for the two African-American majority districts, the state was found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act, which regulates certain states' districting specifically concerning racial discrimination.

The decision, 5-3, included the Court's liberal wing in the majority along with a concurrence from usually conservative Justice Clarence Thomas. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy concurred in part and dissented in part. Newly appointed junior Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate.

"We by no means ‘insist that a state legislature, when redistricting, determine precisely what percent minority population demands.' But neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her majority opinion.

"Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, that latitude cannot rescue District 1," Kagan wrote.

In the case of the 12th District, the Court found that evidence offered at trial supported the conclusion that race was the determining factor behind the District's design.

The dissenting justices attacked the majority for ostensibly tossing out a pre-existing precedent for District 12 in Easley v. Cromartie.

"A precedent of this Court should not be treated like a disposable household item—say, a paper plate or napkin— to be used once and then tossed in the trash," Justice Alito wrote in dissent.

"But that is what the Court does today in its decision regarding North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District: The Court junks a rule adopted in a prior, remarkably similar challenge to this very same congressional district," he continued.

The ruling will not impact the current shape of North Carolina's federal Congressional districts. This is because those lines have already been redrawn, following a 2016 federal court ruling that separately found North Carolina's districts to be "racially gerrymandered."

The two districts are represented by Democrats at the federal level: Rep. G.K. Butterfield represents the 1st, and Rep. Alma Adams represents the 12th. The 2016 redistricting retained the state's 10 Republican, 3 Democrat Congressional delegation.

Charles Fain Lehman

Charles Fain Lehman   Email Charles | Full Bio | RSS
Charles Fain Lehman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He writes about policy, covering crime, law, drugs, immigration, and social issues. Reach him on twitter (@CharlesFLehman) or by email at

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