The Court has already decided one major racial redistricting case this Term, Bethune-Hill, from Virginia. The other major racial redistricting case, Cooper v. Harris, from North Carolina, is now one of three cases outstanding the longest since argument. Cooper involves two congressional districts, CD 1 and CD 12 (by now, CD 12 must have been litigated before the Supreme Court more times than any congressional district in history). I want to untangle the various issues at stake and provide perspective on which legal issues are the key ones to focus on when this opinion finally comes down. To begin, the issues concerning CD 1 and CD 12 are quite different – and the ones involving CD 1 have the broadest legal significance (that makes it a bit unfortunate that most of the oral argument focused on CD 12).
For CD 1, the issues center on the legitimate role of race in the districting process, in a state where significant levels of white cross-over voting exist for candidates black voters also prefer. In CD 1, the North Carolina legislature increased the black voting-age population (BVAP) from 47.76% to 52.65%, even though at that lower population level the district had regularly performed as a successful Voting Rights Act (VRA) district – it had consistently elected the candidate of choice of black voters. But the State argues that to safely comply with the VRA, it sought to create a majority-black district. The plaintiffs argue that the VRA doesn’t require turning districts that are already working as VRA districts into majority-minority districts, and that NC therefore acted unconstitutionally by using race to an excessive and unjustified extent.
At stake here is whether the VRA requires creating majority-minority districts, even when districts with interracial coalitions are effectively electing candidates of choice of minority voters without minority voters needing to constitute a majority.