North Carolina lawmakers now have one more reason to revisit the state’s discriminatory legislative and congressional maps: The U.S. Supreme Court seems inclined to eventually make them do so. The Court ruled 5-4 last week that Alabama wrongly packs black voters into too few legislative districts, diluting their votes. It’s a decision that might be instructive to N.C. Republicans, who like Democrats before them have drawn legislative districts that give their party the best chance of staying in power. Republicans, however, have taken the tactic to a new level of distastefulness, and the state’s 2011 map is being challenged on similar grounds as the Alabama case. The N.C. challenge is pending before the Supreme Court. In Alabama, like North Carolina, lawmakers have insisted that their districts are lawful. In fact, Alabama’s attorneys argued to the Supreme Court that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required those who drew the voting maps to maintain certain percentages of black voters in majority black districts. That, attorneys said, forced lawmakers to cluster minorities into fewer districts.
The Court, and specifically Justice Stephen Breyer, rejected that rationale. The Voting Rights Act doesn’t require a specific minority percentage, Breyer wrote, but it does require that Alabama “maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice.”
The same should apply to North Carolina. Plaintiffs here argue that N.C. lawmakers used similar racial percentage goals in drawing the 2011 maps, with minorities getting jammed into a handful of districts while other districts were made more white and friendly to GOP candidates. The result is not only that minorities are disenfranchised, but that most N.C. districts are non-competitive, leaving voters pretty much irrelevant.