High court ruling may give voter rights groups a strong tool

Five Supreme Court Justices on May 22 ruled that two Congressional districts in North Carolina, one and 12, had illegally used race to draw district maps. In fact, she pointed out, the state had "no reason" at all to think that it needed to increase the number of black voters in District 1, because the district had consistently elected - often by "landslides" - minority representatives. Kagan explained that the latest district added about 35,000 black voters even though it is already deemed an African American district since after the 1990 Census.

It is unclear what effect the ruling will have on ongoing questions about the state's districts.

In a statement released by Gov. Roy Cooper, he praised the decision of the Supreme Court to affirm the lower court's ruling. Democrats hailed the ruling.

North Carolina's maps, said Holder, "were among the worst racial gerrymanders in the nation".

The Supreme Court has also never said legislative districts can not be mapped based on plainly partisan aims like maximizing one party's election chances.

Both districts are held by Democrats.

The lawyer leading the challenge to the state districts, Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said Monday's ruling has clear implications for that case. North Carolina is a relatively evenly divided swing state-Donald Trump won it by just 3 points last year-yet these lines offered Republicans 10 safe districts while creating three lopsidedly Democratic seats.

Republicans complained about the ruling, however, saying it compounds "the confused state of the law".

In 1993, it was conservatives who first challenged the state's redistricting plan, arguing successfully that race played an unconstitutionally large role in drawing district lines.

Voters filed suit after the congressional districts were redrawn, alleging that the state diluted the influence of black voters by packing minorities into two long-held districts.

Eric Holder, who was USA attorney general under President Barack Obama and now heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group backing Democrats in redistricting fights, welcomed the decision.

Redistricting is part of a bare-knuckled fight in North Carolina, where Democrats and Republicans uneasily share political power.

But earlier this year the Supreme Court temporarily halted an order to redraw those legislative districts.

For the second time in a seven-day span, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down an act of North Carolina's General Assembly.

The split among the justices was over the 12th district.

"This phenomenon makes it hard to distinguish between political and race-based decision making", said Justice Alito. "We uphold the District Court's conclusions that racial considerations predominated in designing both District 1 and District 12", Kagan wrote for the high court.

"The sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics", wrote Justice Elena Kagan, who ruled against racial gerrymandering efforts in Districts one and 12. In an unusual move, Justice Clarence Thomas joined with the Court's liberal bloc to produce a 5-3 decision.

Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the state's argument that the VRA could be used to pack black voters into a district was not supported by the law.

"But that is what the Court does today in its decision regarding North Carolina's 12th Congressional District: The Court junks a rule adopted in a prior, remarkably similar challenge to this very same congressional district", he continued.

As a result, the ruling sends the North Carolina Legislature back to the drawing board - with significant potential implications for the 2018 midterm elections.

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