Helena Lyng Blak
2 weeks ago

“A severe blow to the ideals of democracy”: The Supreme Court rules on voting rights case

US Supreme Court upholds redistricting accused of racial gerrymandering in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.
Photo by DarioStudios
Photo by DarioStudios

On Thursday, May 23, 2024, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision to reverse a federal court’s unanimous findings that South Carolina’s 2021 congressional map was a case of racial gerrymandering and thus unconstitutional and in need of being redrawn. 

Before 2020, South Carolina’s congressional District 1 was seemingly a ‘swing-district’, with Democrats and Republicans going neck and neck in each election, frequently only winning their seats by small margins.

Following the 2020 Census, changes and shifts in population required states to redraw their congressional districts. 

South Carolina redrew its maps, dividing the county of Charleston between two different districts. The cities of Charleston and North Charleston were placed within a sixth district with the state’s Midlands region, which is located 100 miles away from the latter of the two cities. This, according to the League of Women Voters, fundamentally changed the racial makeup of the congressional districts.

The plaintiffs argued the redistricting violated the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments’ Equal Protection Clause as it divided Black communities and thus voters. The defendants, on the other hand, claimed that the map was an example of partisan gerrymandering, not racial. 

It was Justice Samuel Alito who delivered the 6-3 majority opinion, saying, 

“Claims that a map is unconstitutional because it was drawn to achieve a partisan end are not justiciable in federal court. By contrast, if a legislature gives race a predominant role in redistricting decisions, the resulting map is subjected to strict scrutiny and may be held unconstitutional.”

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that, 

“The State contends that its mapmakers looked exclusively at data from the last election and targeted people who had voted Democratic. If that is true, the State’s actions (however unsavory and undemocratic) are immune from federal constitutional challenge. The Challengers, though, offer a different account. They say that the mapmakers, not content with what the election data revealed, also reviewed and heavily relied on racial data— thus exploiting the well-known correlation between race and voting behavior.”

Many NGOs and voting rights organizations have reacted to the Supreme Court decision with anger and frustration. 

Janette McCarthy-Wallace, Chief General Counsel of the NAACP, called the decision “a severe blow to the ideals of democracy.”

Maya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement that the decision, in her opinion, is an “egregious and blatant assault on the rights of Black voters,” and an “atrocious move by an ideologically conservative majority to install its own ideological views about voting rights—views that are hostile to history and hostile to the Constitution.”

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