The US Supreme Court suggested it will reinstate a Republican-drawn congressional map in South Carolina, hearing arguments in a case that could help determine which party controls the House after next year‘s election.
(Bloomberg) — The US Supreme Court suggested it will reinstate a Republican-drawn congressional map in South Carolina, hearing arguments in a case that could help determine which party controls the House after next year‘s election.
In a session that lasted more than two hours, the conservative majority on Wednesday voiced skepticism about a lower court’s conclusion that lawmakers engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering in drawing what is now a Republican-held district.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, which sued to challenge the map, was relying on “circumstantial evidence” in making its case.
“I’m not saying you can’t get there, but it does seem that this would be breaking new ground in our voting rights jurisprudence,” Roberts said.
Republicans say they were motivated by politics, not race. The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that voting maps can’t be challenged in federal court as excessively partisan.
The issues are different from those the justices resolved earlier this year when they said Alabama Republicans violated the Voting Rights Act with a congressional map that contained only one majority-Black district. The South Carolina fight concerns a separate line of Supreme Court cases that say the Constitution’s equal protection clause bars people who draw maps from making race the “predominant” factor.
A three-judge panel said that for South Carolina’s 1st District, lawmakers established a target of 17% Black voters, shifting 30,000 African Americans out of the district to hit the goal. The configuration left the GOP with a comfortable majority in the Charleston-based district, which elected Republican Nancy Mace in the last two elections.
The court’s three liberal justices suggested the lower court had adequate evidence to conclude that, even if the goal was permissible, South Carolina lawmakers improperly relied on race to get there. “The numbers are incredible,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.
But conservative justices faulted the challengers for not offering an alternative map to show how the state could have achieved its aims without relying so heavily on race.
“There’s no evidence that the legislature could have achieved its partisan tilt, which everyone says is permissible, in any other way,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said.
Both sides have asked the court to rule by the end of the year to allow time to finalize a map for the 2024 election.
Since South Carolina picked up a seventh congressional district after the 2010 census, Republicans have held a 6-1 majority every election cycle except for one. Democrat Joe Cunningham won the 1st District in 2018, before losing to Mace two years later.
Mace was once seen as a relative moderate within the Republican caucus. But she was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker earlier this month.
The case is Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference, 22-807.
(Updates with Sotomayor, Gorsuch comment starting in eighth paragraph.)
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