By John Kruzel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – South Carolina Democrat Michael B. Moore, the great- great-grandson of a Black Civil War hero and pioneering 19th century congressman, is aiming to help his party retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Republicans in 2024.
But his political fortunes may be in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court as he seeks election in a coastal House district that includes parts of Charleston. The justices on Wednesday are set to hear an appeal by state officials seeking to implement a Republican-drawn map for the district that a federal three-judge panel found illegally diluted the power of Black voters.
In a legal challenge by Black voters, the lower court found that the map “exiled” 30,000 Black residents from that district – shifting their neighborhoods into a different district – in violation of the Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments, which guarantee equal protection under the law and prohibit race-based voting discrimination.
Black voters tend to favor Democratic candidates.
According to Moore, the Republican-drawn map effectively “muted” the voices of voters.
“We would love to have those voters back,” said Moore, who seeks to win the Democratic primary and then unseat Republican incumbent Nancy Mace. “It’s the fair thing to do if federal courts have acknowledged that those voters were unconstitutionally disenfranchised.”
Legislative districts across the United States are redrawn to reflect population changes documented in the nationwide census conducted every decade.
A practice called gerrymandering involves the manipulation of electoral district boundaries to marginalize a certain set of voters and increase the influence of others. In this case, the Republican-controlled state legislature was accused of racial gerrymandering to reduce the influence of Black voters.
South Carolina officials have argued that their map was designed to secure partisan advantages, a practice that the Supreme Court in 2019 decided was not reviewable by federal courts – unlike racial gerrymandering, which remains illegal. The officials faulted the lower court for finding that the district’s composition was motivated primarily by race rather than Republican interests.
The eventual ruling by the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, may determine whether a Democrat has a realistic shot to win this district, said elections analyst J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Similar legal cases over electoral maps in Louisiana, Georgia, New York and other states could help determine which party next year emerges with control of the House. The Supreme Court in June ruled against Alabama Republicans in one such case, ordering that state to devise a second majority-Black U.S. House district in a ruling that gave a boost to Democrats. Republicans hold a slim 221-212 House margin.
1ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
South Carolina’s 1st congressional district sent Republicans to the House each biennial election from 1980 to 2016 before a Democrat won in an upset in 2018. It reverted back to Republicans in 2020 when Mace won by just over 1 percentage point, or 5,400 votes.
The South Carolina legislature used the redistricting process to bolster Republican support in the district. The new map increased the district’s share of white voters while reducing its share of Black voters, which the lower court referred to as “bleaching.”
The map relocated 30,000 of the district’s Black residents to the neighboring 6th congressional district that stretches 125 miles (200 km) inland from Charleston. The 6th district has been held for three decades by Democrat Jim Clyburn, one of the most prominent Black members of Congress.
Mace sailed to re-election in 2022 in the reconfigured district. Clyburn’s is the only one of South Carolina’s seven U.S. House districts held by a Democrat.
Mace signed a brief urging the justices to preserve the Republican-drawn map. Mace’s congressional office did not respond to a request for comment.
Moore, for his part, said he would welcome a judicial ruling returning some or all of the 30,000 Black “exiled” residents back to his district.
Moore, 61, is a former business executive who helped launch Charleston’s International African American Museum. He also is the great- great-grandson of Robert Smalls.
Smalls, born into slavery in 1839, later served five termsin the U.S. Congress beginning in 1875. During the Civil War, he commandeered a Confederate ship in 1862 and delivered it to Union forces, securing his freedom and that of a group of other enslaved passengers.
When he was elected to the House, the district he represented included part of the district his descendant now seeks to represent. In another historical parallel, that district also was redrawn by 19th century legislators who sought to weaken the influence of Black voters.
“Robert fought so hard for voting rights, for human rights,” Moore said of his ancestor, “and, in some ways, at least the aftershocks of those battles are still being fought.”
(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)