The Supreme Court on Monday struck down two North Carolina congressional districts, ruling that lawmakers had violated the Constitution by relying too heavily on race in drawing them. The court rejected arguments from state lawmakers that their purpose in drawing the maps was not racial discrimination but partisan advantage. The decision was the court’s latest attempt to solve a constitutional puzzle: how to disentangle the roles of race and partisanship when black voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats. The difference matters because the Supreme Court has said that only racial gerrymandering is constitutionally suspect.
Election law experts said the ruling would make it easier to challenge voting districts based partly on partisan affiliations and partly on race. “This will lead to many more successful racial gerrymandering cases in the American South and elsewhere,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Democrats welcomed the ruling. “This is a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering,” Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general and the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement. “North Carolina’s maps were among the worst racial gerrymanders in the nation.”
Conservatives complained that the Supreme Court had succeeded only in making the law murkier.