February 7, 2023

South Carolina’s federal caucus rules outlaw gerrymandering in Congress

Federal rulings on other racial redistricting cases involving House districts in Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas blocked the justices’ decision in the Alabama case. However, the South Carolina decision will not be affected because the lawsuit challenging the congressional map says it violates the Constitution, not the Voting Rights Act.

The South Carolina conference of the NAACP sued the state legislature after lawmakers approved the new congressional map last January. The organization claimed in the lawsuit that the map structures of the First, Second and Fifth Congressional Districts illegally violated the rights of black voters under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution.

But as the trial wrapped up in late November, the justices focused on the First District, which hugs the Carolina coast from the state’s largest city, Charleston, to Hilton Head. Democrats and Republicans traded control of the House seat in the 2018 and 2020 elections, each time being decided by less than one percentage point.

The House map approved in January moved 62 percent of Charleston County’s black voters from the First District to the Sixth District, a seat held by Rep. Jim Clyburn, a black Democrat, for 30 years.

The change helped make the new First District a Republican stronghold. In November, Republican incumbent Representative Nancy Mays won re-election by 14 percentage points.

Republican legislators freely admitted in court testimony that they drew the First District for partisan gain. But they said they deliberately avoided looking at the new map’s racial breakdown, a defense Republicans have increasingly adopted in other redistricting battles to insulate themselves from accusations of bias.

In Friday’s panel opinion, the three justices noted that a mapmaker hired by the Legislature had testified that he tried to make as few changes as possible in drawing the maps for the state’s six other assembly seats. But he said he abandoned that approach in redrawing the First District and instead made “dramatic changes” in Charleston County that “created a much greater disparity.”