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April 20, 2001

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North Carolina Racial Gerrymandering Case
Goes Before the U.S. Supreme Court
Easley v. Cromartie, No. 99-1864

Heavily Black N.C. District Is Upheld (04/19/01)
"High Court Flexible On Redistricting"

NC_map_final.JPG (21575 bytes)          [Washington Apr. 19, 2001] "The Supreme Court gave its approval to a substantially black congressional district in North Carolina yesterday, a decision that may give states more latitude to consider race as they redraw their political maps in accord with the 2000 Census.

          "By a 5 to 4 vote, the justices upheld for the first time a congressional district challenged because of its heavy minority voting population. It rejected a claim that the state legislature violated the constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination when it shifted heavily black precincts into the 12th Congressional District."

          This was the Supreme Court's fourth review of theNorth Carolina's 12th Congressional District.

          The Court determined that the NC state legislature did not act improperly in its most recent redrawing of the 12th district due to its intention to create a heavily Democratic voting district.  In essence, the high court said the fact that blacks vote 90% Democratic was a coincidence and not evidence of a racially motivated effort.

Melvin L. Watt (D) - NC District 12
Melvin L. Watt
          U.S. Representative Melvin L. Watt (D) represents the 12th district in Congress.  Mr. Watt is the first black man in 100 years to be elected to the U.S. House from North Carolina.

          The racially gerrymandered district helps protect Mr. Watt's seat in Congress.

          Yesterday's 5 to 4 Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent allowing states to create "majority minority" voting districts as long as the redistricting criteria are primarily concerned with factors such as voting behavior.  Since blacks and Hispanics vote heavily Democratic, then in a district with a large number of Democrats a high proportion of them could well be racial minorities.  The Court's decision generally allows districts to be redrawn within the traditional "political gerrymandering" doctrine.

          The Washington Post cites Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer's opinion: "The evidence taken together . . . does not show that racial considerations predominated in the drawing of District 12's boundaries.  That is because race closely correlates with political behavior" in North Carolina.   Blacks in this state traditionally vote 90% Democratic.

          A 1993 Supreme Court decision determined that creation of a "majority-minority" district solely for racial reasons was unconstitutional.  1993's 5 to 4 decision, and yesterday's 5 to 4 decision, left a huge loop hole that has resulted in racially gerrymandered voting districts remaining on the maps, just as long as they're not actually called "racially gerrymandered voting districts".

          Lawyers for both sides believe mountains of lawsuits will be generated by the high court's loop hole which tacitly allows racially drawn districts.

          "The Supreme Court's decision yesterday culminated a legal battle that began in 1992 when North Carolina created a 54.7 percent black district snaking through the central part of the state. At one point, only a stretch of Interstate I-85 connected two black sections of the state.  Opponents of the North Carolina districting plan sued, and in 1993, the Supreme Court struck down that earlier version of the 12th District.

          "Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, joined by the court's conservatives [in the 1993 opinion], wrote for the majority that the oddly shaped district embodied unfounded assumptions about how blacks and whites vote, and that racial gerrymandering threatened to "balkanize" the country."

          Legal experts believe the Court's apparent flexibility on the issue of racial gerrymandering indicates more future lawsuits, with each side jockeying for the conservative or liberal justices' sympathies of the moment.

(Based on the Washington Post story by Charles Lane 04/19/01 on page A01)

NC 1992 Racial Gerrymandered 12th District
NC 1997 Racially Gerrymandered 12th District
NC 1998 Racially Gerrymandered 12th District

[Last known link]

Easley v. Cromartie: Justices Permit Race as a Factor in Redistricting (04/19/01)

          "In a crucial ruling on the role of race in legislative districting, the Supreme Court today upheld a long-disputed North Carolina Congressional district against the accusation that the 47-percent-black district was the product of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The 5-to-4 decision, which overturned a lower court's finding that the state's 12th Congressional District was unconstitutional, provided much-needed guidance to state legislatures and lower federal courts that will soon be dealing with a nationwide round of redistricting as a result of the 2000 census.

          "The message of Justice Stephen G. Breyer's majority opinion was that race is not an illegitimate consideration in redistricting as long as it is not the "dominant and controlling" one.

          "Justice Breyer emphasized that people seeking to challenge heavily black districts as racial gerrymanders face a high hurdle in regions where "racial identification is highly correlated with political affiliation," as in North Carolina, where more than 95 percent of black voters support Democratic candidates.

          "A central goal of the North Carolina Legislature in drawing the disputed district lines in 1997 was to preserve a six-to-six balance between Democrats and Republicans in the state's Congressional delegation. Since there was evidence that among registered Democrats in North Carolina, black voters were more likely to vote Democratic than were white voters, Justice Breyer said, precincts with black majorities were more reliable as building blocks for a Democratic district. While race was not the controlling reason, Justice Breyer said the district was drawn to protect a black Democratic incumbent, Melvin Watt, while at the same time not making too great an incursion into the adjoining Ninth Congressional District, represented by a white Republican. The decision, Easley v. Cromartie, No. 99-1864, made little, if any, new law. "

(New York Times 04/19/01 by Linda Greenhouse)

[Last known link:]

Clymer: Democrats & GOP Hail Easley v. Cromartie (04/19/01)

          [New York Times] "Republicans and Democrats both claimed victory today after the Supreme Court ruled that race could be an element in redistricting decisions so long as it was not the controlling factor. Republicans, who pushed for majority black districts in the 1990's that concentrated the most reliably Democratic voters in a few districts, found vindication because in recent years the Supreme Court had thrown out districts it found to be based on race.

          "Donald F. McGahn II, counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee, called today's ruling "a good thing." "It certainly acknowledges the validity of majority-minority districts," Mr. McGahn said.

          "Democrats took comfort in a fact that was not directly at issue in the case, Easley v. Cromartie. The 12th Congressional District of North Carolina, in its latest form, is only 47 percent minority. Democrats took the court's approval to mean that states could satisfy the Voting Rights Act's demand of opportunity for minority candidates without having to concentrate huge majorities of black voters into a district.

          "Representative Martin Frost of Texas, who heads the Democrats' redistricting efforts, said, "The court has clearly thwarted Republican claims that states must pack minority voters into single districts — thereby diluting their overall voting strength." Both sides' arguments may be tested first in New Jersey, where Democrats back a redistricting plan for the Legislature that would break up three existing districts with majorities of black and Hispanic voters and spread these often reliably Democratic votes across a greater number of districts. Republicans have attacked the plan in court, saying it helps white Democrats but takes away the opportunities for minorities that already existed."

          "Representative Watt, whose district has been challenged all through the 1990's, said, "I am happy that the Supreme Court has finally closed this chapter." But North Carolina, which gained a 13th House seat as a result of the 2000 census, will draw new maps, and Mr. Watt said, "I hope that the 5- 4 split in the court's decision does not portend 10 more years of litigation.""

[Last known link:]

Justices Reconsider Race and Redistricting (11/28/00)

          "WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 — For the fourth time since 1993, the Supreme Court met today to consider whether a long, skinny Congressional district [the 12th Congressional District] in the North Carolina Piedmont is the product of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The justices' answer this time is likely to determine the role that race can play in the round of redistricting that is due to follow this year's census."

          The U.S. Supreme Court began invalidating race-based congressional redistricting plans in its landmark Shaw v. Reno (1993) and Miller v. Johnson (1995) decisions.  In 1993, the high court said the unusually high concentration of black voters in North Carolina's 12th Congressional District was constitutionally suspect.

          "That 5-to-4 decision and the others that quickly followed, invalidating majority-black districts in Georgia, Florida and Texas, changed the redistricting rules and established that districts drawn with race as a "predominant" factor are unconstitutional.  Now the justices have to provide some guidance on how to tell whether race was the predominant motive when other goals, like partisan balance and the protection of an incumbent, also influenced the legislature's redistricting choices."

          The plaintiffs are a group of black voters and the State of North Carolina who argued on appeal before the Supreme Court that the 12th district had been drawn along political lines, NOT along racial lines.   Plaintiffs are appealing a 2 to 1 decision against the State issued by a three judge panel of the Federal District Court in Raleigh, NC in March 2000.  (Based on the New York Times 11/28/00 story by Linda Greenhouse).

[Last known link: ]

U.S. Supreme Court considers role of race in setting voting districts (11/27/00)

          "WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just in time for the drawing of new election districts with 2000 census numbers, a pivotal voting-rights dispute is giving the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to clarify when voting districts have been unlawfully based on race.

          "The North Carolina case being argued Monday is a followup to the justices' landmark 1993 ruling that election districts drawn to help minorities might violate white voters' rights.

          "A lower court ruled that [North Carolina's] 12th Congressional District -- 46 percent of whose registered voters are black -- was unlawful because race was the "predominant factor" in its creation. 

          "The Clinton administration, supporting North Carolina, told the justices in court papers that the case was "likely to be its final opportunity" to outline new standards before new election districts are created with 2000 census figures.

          "The justices are expected to issue a decision by July that could have a major effect on the racial makeup of voting districts nationwide."

          Associated Press reports that the North Carolina cases which motivated this landmark appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court are Hunt v. Cromartie, 99-1864, and Smallwood v. Cromartie, 99-1865. (Based upon the AP story as published by CNN.COM 11/27/00)

[Last known link]

High Court Reviews Districting (11/27/00)

          "The Supreme Court, which has ruled states may not configure congressional districts predominately along racial lines, will get to implement that using 2000 census figures.

          "According to the Associated Press: Now before the highest court is a landmark case, expected to be decided by July, that could have a major effect on the racial makeup of voting districts nationwide. The decision would come just in time to determine how the 2000 census data is used as state legislatures redraw their congressional districts' lines.

          "On Monday, the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments on whether a lower court ruled correctly that North Carolina's 12th district – 46 percent of whose registered voters are black – was an "impermissible and unconstitutional racial gerrymander" because race was the "predominant factor" in its creation.

          "Attorneys for North Carolina – supported by the Clinton-Gore administration – argue that the district should be allowed to stand as drawn because it was configured mainly on political considerations."  (Based on AP story as reported by 11/27/00)

[Last known link ]

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.