The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in racial gerrymandering cases from Virginia and North Carolina. The first case, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections [SCOTUSblog materials] is analyzing [SCOTUSblog report] a redistricting plan in Virginia that was completed after the 2010 census. The approved plan was to require 55 percent of voters in a dozen districts to be African-American, but this plan is now being challenged on the basis that race was used to pack these districts and water down minority voting strength in other districts. The defendants argue [transcript, PDF] that the percentage requirement did not affect many districts and that the number was only used to comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [DOJ materials]. The defendants also point out that the challenge is coming years after the plan went into place, suggesting political motivations rather than actual harm. The lower court determined that race was not in actual conflict with other redistricting criteria, so race could not predominate. The Supreme Court is presented with multiple questions regarding when there can be a predominant factor, if a percentage requirement would amount to racial predominance, whether racial goals must negate other goals for race to predominate, as well as what evidence should be examined and what weight it should receive. The court is also determining whether the one district that race was deemed to predominate passes strict scrutiny, requiring a narrowly tailored plan to serve a compelling government interest.
The second case is McCrory v. Harris [SCOTUSblog materials], another case analyzing two congressional districts that were allegedly packed with African-Americans in order to lessen their voting power in other districts. The two districts, NC-1 and NC-12, have been presented to the court in four previous racial gerrymandering cases, and earlier this year the district court struck down the redistricting plan [opinion, PDF] while describing NC-12 as a “textbook example of racial gerrymandering.” Republicans in the state maintain [transcript, PDF] that race was not considered when redrawing NC-12, but rather they were seeking Republican victories in as many districts as possible and used 2008 election data to establish the best plan for that goal. They admit NC-1 was drawn as a majority-minority district. However, the Republicans argue that the redistricting was necessary due to population in the district, and it was done in the manner at issue rather than by adding voters from neighboring, primarily white counties because they wanted to avoid violating the VRA. They argue that the court should look to motivations when examining redistricting. In response, the plaintiffs point out that the architects of the redistricting plan admitted to considering race and compliance with the VRA in both districts, and they argue that the lower court’s determination that other criteria were pushed to the side is supported by the evidence. The Supreme Court is presented with questions regarding standard of review, necessary evidence and the weight that should be given to specific evidence, preclusion, and how to reconcile differing lower court opinions on identical issues.