Washington DC – The Supreme Court will tackle that question today as it hears oral arguments in two redistricting cases. Both cases are alleged racial gerrymander claims; one orginating from Virginia’s state legislative map and the other from North Carolina’s congressional district map. To be sure, the court has already determined that unconstitutional racial gerrymandering occurs when race becomes the “predominant” factor by which a district(s) are drawn, such that “traditional” principles are subordinated in favor of race. Indeed it sounds like a bright-line rule, but the devil is in the details.
Both the Virginia and North Carolina legislatures contend that its concern was compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which requires that districts be drawn so that minority voters have the ability to elect candidates of their choosing. Practically speaking, existing majority minority districts (and some “naturally occurring concentrations of minorities) should not be split so as to reduce this ability. There are well-documented tests to determine whether a particular group of minority voters should have this consideration, but it seems at least on the surface, that both legislatures adopted a rather simplistic strategy of establishing a fixed percentage target for minority districts such that its legal challengers allege that minority voters were simply packed into districts to dilute their – and by proxy, Democratic – voting power.
Put simply, did Republican line-drawers use the Voting Rights Act to hide its partisan gerrymandering goals and in the process, create illegal racial gerrymanders? Maybe that isn’t as simple as it sounds. Check back for the oral argument audio when it comes available. Read the Scotusblog preview here.