By MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court struck down two congressional districts in North Carolina on Monday because race played too large a role in their creation.
The justices ruled that Republicans who controlled the state legislature and governor’s office in 2011 placed too many black residents in the two districts. The result was to weaken black residents’ voting strength elsewhere in North Carolina.
Both districts have since been redrawn and the state conducted elections under the new congressional map in 2016. Even with the new districts, Republicans maintained their 10-3 edge in congressional seats.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the state had not offered compelling reasons to justify its reliance on race in either district.
The issue of race and redistricting is a familiar one at the Supreme Court and Kagan noted that one of the districts was “making its fifth(!) appearance before this court.”
States have to take race into account when drawing maps for legislative, congressional and a host of municipal political districts. At the same time, race can’t be the predominant factor without very strong reasons.
A three-judge federal court had previously struck down the two districts. The justices upheld the lower court’s ruling on both counts.
The court unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling on District 1 in northeastern North Carolina. Kagan wrote that the court will not “approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence.”
The justices split 5-3 on the other district, District 12 in the southwestern part of the state. Justice Clarence Thomas joined the four liberal justices to form a majority. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not part in the case.
The state insisted that race played no role at all in the creation of one district. Instead, the state argued that Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to leave the district in Democratic hands, so that the surrounding districts would be safer for Republicans.
“The evidence offered at trial…adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration,” Kagan wrote.
Alito said in dissent that the evidence instead shows that the district’s borders “are readily explained by political considerations.”