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
[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
"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
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
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
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
| 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.
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)
[Last known link http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A33666-2001Apr18?language=printer]
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
"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: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/19/politics/19SCOT.html]
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
"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: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/19/politics/19DIST.html]
Justices Reconsider Race and
"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: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/28/politics/28SCOT.html
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'
"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 http://www.cnn.com/2000/LAW/11/27/scotus.votingrights.sc.ap/index.html]
High Court Reviews
"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'
"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 NewsMax.com 11/27/00)
[Last known link http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2000/11/27/65803.shtml
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