Supreme Court Opens Door To South Carolina Reinstituting ‘Stark Racial Gerrymander’

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 07: Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images)
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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a challenge brought by South Carolina Republican officials seeking to overturn a lower court ruling requiring them to redraw their “stark racial gerrymander” of a congressional district in the state. 

The First Congressional District had reliably elected a Republican for decades until Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) flipped it in 2018 in an enormous upset. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) won it back in 2020, but only by about one point. 

Seeking to put the seat more reliably in their column, South Carolina Republicans cut more than 30,000 Black voters from the district during the decennial redistricting that was completed last year, enabling Mace to glide to reelection in 2022 by 14 points. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a powerful Democratic force in the deep red state, participated in the Republican overhaul to ensure that his district would be flooded with an influx of dependable Democratic votes, according to a ProPublica report.

A lower court panel, consisting of three Democrat-appointed federal judges, found the first district to be unconstitutionally contorted to virtually guarantee Republican control. 

The map drawing “ultimately exiled over 30,000 African American citizens from their previous district and created a stark racial gerrymander of Charleston County and the City of Charleston,” the panel wrote in its January decision. It ordered a redraw of the congressional district’s lines. 

The Supreme Court — which has done massive, historic damage to the legal safeguards that once blocked partisan and racial gerrymanders — taking up South Carolina officials’ challenge to that order does not bode well. 

The officials’ appeal to the Supreme Court presents such questions as “Did the district court err when it failed to disentangle race from politics?” and “Did the district court err when it failed to apply the presumption of good faith and to holistically analyze District 1 and the General Assembly’s intent?”

The preponderance of egregious gerrymanders and their accompanying disenfranchisement will endure as one of the Roberts Court’s greatest legacies. The right-wing majority seems poised to add another case to that distortion of American democracy. 

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