Results tagged “Cooper v. Harris” from PlanetGreen.org

Is Gerrymandering Finally Over in the N.C. 12th District?

|
Gerrymander.jpgYesterday, the Supreme Court affirmed the Middle District of North Carolina in Cooper v. Harris, 15-1262, deciding that the 1st Congressional District and controversial 12th District were impermissibly drawn for the purposes of political and racial gerrymandering. The 1st District encapsulates a comparatively contiguous expanse of territory in the northeast of the state, but also includes several highly irregular strips of land designed to contain predominantly Democratic and minority communities. The other zone before the Court in Cooper is the N.C. 12th, a chronically contorted district that is, according to the majority opinion, "making its fifth(!) appearance before this Court" (emphasis in original). The 12th is an extraordinarily narrow corridor one hundred and twenty miles in length, though no more than twenty miles wide at its broadest point in the vicinity of the city of Charlotte - its singular design has been varyingly described during its long career in the courts as "questionable" (Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234 (2001)), "serpentine" (as it was in Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899 (1996)),"snakelike" with "knobs" (the new and improved version before the Court today), "tortured," (appellees' brief in Cooper), and simply "bizarre" (Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541 (1999)).


In declaring the deliberate dilution of minority votes evinced in Districts 1 and 12 unconstitutional, the Court may be returning to its long history of protecting voters' right to cast a meaningful ballot. Prior to 1962, the judiciary was inclined to view such inequities as political and not legal problems, but as Justice Brennan expostulated in Baker v. Carr: "Of course the mere fact that the suit seeks protection of a political right does not mean it presents a political question." 369 U.S. 186. Two years later, the Court per Chief Justice Warren conclusively established that "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), see also Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900 (1995). The Court has also long maintained that the Constitution was designed to "withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles." West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). In 2013, the Court notoriously departed from this tradition of protecting the integrity of Americans' voting rights in Shelby County v. Holder, in which it invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act. However, its holding yesterday may signal a restoration of its prior jurisprudence.


In a meticulously detailed, lively decision authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the Court unilaterally rejects the North Carolina redistricting system as unjustifiably discriminatory. The opinion begins with a clear standard by which the plan is to be judged: "The Constitution entrusts States with the job of designing congressional districts. But it also imposes an important constraint: A State may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing lines unless it has a compelling reason." It goes on to eliminate the State's contention that the plaintiffs, local voters David Harris and Christine Bowser, lack standing due to an earlier lawsuit in state court by the local NAACP. The merits of the case were then clearly dealt with. In striking down the new lines of District 1, Justice Kagan denounced North Carolina's unlawful scheme and unequivocally held that the Court will not "approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d'etre is a legal mistake." The final portion of the opinion clarifies the meaning of Easley v. Cromartie, which the State interpreted as requiring plaintiffs in redistricting cases not only to prove that a contested plan dilutes the votes of minority citizens, but also to propose an alternative plan achieving greater balance. Cooper concisely debunks that notion: "The reasoning of Cromartie II belies that reading. The Court's opinion nowhere attempts to explicate or justify the categorical rule that the State seems to find there... And given the strangeness of that rule - which would treat a mere form of evidence as the very substance of a constitutional claim... - we cannot think that the Court adopted it without any explanation. Still more, the entire thrust of Cromartie II runs counter to an inflexible counter-map requirement." By renewing the Court's commitment to ensuring the preservation of fundamental voting rights and clearly expounding the elements of a gerrymandering claim, Cooper appears to mark a return to the tradition of Reynolds and its progeny.

Tags

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.