US federal judge panel orders South Carolina use congressional map previously declared unconstitutional News
Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
US federal judge panel orders South Carolina use congressional map previously declared unconstitutional

A panel of federal judges in South Carolina issued an order Thursday reinstating a congressional map that was declared unconstitutional racial gerrymander in 2023 due to concerns that it would be impractical to adopt a new map so close to the 2024 election season.

In their five-page opinion, the three-judge panel, all appointed by Democrat presidents, wrote, “the present circumstances make it plainly impractical for the Court to adopt a remedial plan for the Congressional District No. 1,” referring to the military and absentee ballot deadline on April 27 and party primaries on June 11. The judges acknowledged that using a map declared unconstitutional for racial gerrymandering was highly “unusual” but that the upcoming deadlines, a lack of a “remedial plan,” and a pending appeal at the Supreme Court meant practicalities outweighed the need for an ideal map.

The case began after Congressional District No. 1 was redrawn after the last census by South Carolina’s Republican majority legislature, moving thousands of Black voters into different districts and making the district a safer election bet for Republicans. The NAACP sued on behalf of voters in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, and the same three-judge panel found the map unconstitutional on the district level. South Carolina appealed to the US Supreme Court, and oral arguments were heard in October of last year.

The state argued that the redistricting was driven by political rather than racial motives to make the district more reliably Republican, a view reflected by Justice Samuel Alito, who opined that “[the] whole case was about disentangling race and politics.” The NAACP argued that using race as a “proxy” for partisan gerrymandering motives was illegal. A decision in the case is still pending, although a majority of the court seemed likely to overturn the lower court’s decision.

Since the 2020 census, redistricting cases have proliferated with cases in other southern states, including Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana.