Why The U.S. Supreme Court Vacated NC Court Ruling On Redistricting
Four years after state lawmakers redrew North Carolina's legislative districts, it's still unclear whether those districts are constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court Monday tossed out the North Carolina Supreme Court's ruling in December that upheld the redistricting. The nation's highest court is ordering the state court to reconsider the case in light of a similar Alabama case it recently decided.
Why is the Supreme Court saying North Carolina needs to have this debate again?
It's about that Alabama case. In that state, like in North Carolina, Republicans controlled the legislature after the 2010 Census, so they got to redraw the districts people vote in. They put a lot of African-Americans, who tend to vote Democratic, into just a few districts.
Lawmakers said they were required to do that under the Voting Rights Act, that they had to put a set percentage of African-Americans in majority-minority districts.
And what did the Supreme Court say?
It ruled that's a misinterpretation of the law. The justices wrote last month that the exact percentage is not important, what's important is that minorities can elect a candidate of their choice in certain districts. Obviously you can do that by voting in tandem with people of other races.
The Supreme Court did not strike down the Alabama maps. It sent them back to lower courts to be reconsidered. And now, it's telling North Carolina's Supreme Court to take another look at the maps here.
So is the U.S. Supreme Court saying North Carolina’s high court got it wrong, or is it saying that in light of our Alabama decision you need to revisit the case?
The second part. One of the Republican lawmakers who drew the maps here, state Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, says he's confident they'll stand.
"It'll be validated by the North Carolina Supreme Court again because Alabama's decision has nothing to do with us directly," Rucho says. "You're comparing apples and oranges."
One difference is which parts of the Voting Rights Act the lawmakers are using to justify what they did. Still, a lawyer suing North Carolina, Anita Earls, points out lawmakers in both states focused on hitting certain percentages.
"The court made clear that using racial targets in redistricting was not constitutional," Earls says.
When will the North Carolina Supreme Court take this back up?
It hasn't announced that yet. It could hear more oral arguments. It could just ask for written briefs, or it could send it down to trial court. Lawyers suing North Carolina are asking that this is resolved before the 2016 elections.
So the districts we've been voting in for several elections may change?
Maybe. If so, that likely means some of our state and Congressional representatives will change. That's the underlying point with all this: whoever draws the maps usually does it so that more people from their party get elected.