A Supreme Court majority on Monday appeared to lean in favor of Democrats in Virginia and North Carolina seeking to rein in what they call racial gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures in those states. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is likely to hold the deciding vote, said he was troubled that Republican leaders drew new election maps by moving more black voters into districts that already had a majority of African-American residents and usually favored black candidates. “I have problems with that,” Kennedy said, suggesting he would question such districts if the “tipping point, the principal motivating factor was race.” If the court’s majority agrees, the ruling would put states, counties and cities on notice that they may not concentrate more black and Latino voters into districts that already routinely elect minority representatives.
In Virginia, Republican lawmakers decided that each of the 12 districts that currently elect black candidates must maintain at least a 55 percent black voting population. And in North Carolina, Republican leaders moved tens of thousands of black voters in the Greensboro area into a district that had regularly elected a black Democrat to Congress.
In their defense, the Republicans said they acted to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The landmark law has been understood to mean states may not take steps that would reduce the number of districts that elect minority representatives. GOP lawmakers in both states argued they were protecting those seats.
They also insisted that their primary motivation was partisan politics, not race. Paul Clement, the former solicitor general who was representing the Republicans, described the central North Carolina district as a “political draw.” He said the state’s expert drew the district map based on “political data. He drew the map to draw Democrats in and Republicans out.”