Racial gerrymandering

Abbott v. Perez is odd and unusually complicated even for a racial gerrymandering case.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld all but one of Texas’ 2013 congressional and state legislative districts. The Texas Legislature’s 2013 redistricting plan codified a Texas federal district court’s second attempt at redrawing the legislature’s 2011 plan. The Supreme Court concluded the lower court erred when it required the Texas Legislature to prove that it purged the racially discriminatory taint of the 2011 legislative-drawn plan.

What if a district court adopts a redistricting plan and the state legislature later codifies that plan. May the same district court later rule the redistricting plan is unlawful and/or unconstitutional? That is what the Supreme Court will decide in Abbott v. Perez.

A number of persons and advocacy groups challenged the Texas Legislature’s 2011 state legislative and congressional redistricting plan claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

A three-judge district court issued a remedial redistricting plan which the U.S. Supreme Court vacated in 2012. The district court then drew another remedial redistricting plan called plan C235. In plan C235 the court reconfigured nine challenged districts from the legislature’s 2011 plan but retained two districts, CD27 and CD35, without reconfiguration. In 2013 the state legislature ultimately adopted plan C235.        

In North Carolina v. Covington the Supreme Court issued a three-page unauthored opinion ordering a North Carolina district court to reconsider its decision to remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymandering by truncating existing legislators’ terms and holding a special election.

In a 7-1 decision in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections the Supreme Court rejected the notions that race predominates in redistricting only when there is an actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race and that the predominance analysis should apply only to new district lines that appear to deviate from traditional redistricting criteria.

Regarding District 75, where the lower court determined race did predominate, the Supreme Court agreed the State’s use of race was narrowly tailored because it had “good reasons to believe” that a target of a 55% black voting-age population (BVAP) was necessary to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect their preferred candidate.

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, like many redistricting cases, is complicated. The lower court opinion, including a dissent, is nearly 200 pages long. So it is difficult to know what the Supreme Court will focus on.

But what those challenging the plan seem most upset about is that the lower court concluded race does not “predominate” in redistricting unless the use of race resulted in an “actual conflict” with traditional redistricting criteria. 

Voters from 12 Virginia House of Delegates districts claim their districts were uncon

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