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SCOTUS and Gerrymandering: North Carolina v. Covington (2018)

Summary: The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) considered an appeal by North Carolina's legislature regarding the federal District Court's appointment of a Special Master to redraw state legislative voting districts that had been declared racially gerrymandered by both the District Court and SCOTUS. The Special Master was given the task of redrawing the districts after the General Assembly tried and failed to redraw the districts in a non-racially gerrymandered way.

North Carolina argued that the group of plaintiff voters lacked standing to challenge NC's General Assembly's attempt to redraw these impermissible districts. It also argued that, anyway, the General Assembly did not consider race "at all" the second time around (Emphasis in original). Finally, NC argued that the district court should have given the General Assembly a third chance at drawing non-racially gerrymandered districts.

The Court decided that the plaintiffs did have standing as they suffered the injury of having to vote in racially gerrymandered districts.

Regarding NC's next argument, it decided as follows:

"While it may be undisputed that the 2017 legislature instructed its map drawers not to look at race when crafting a remedial map, what is also undisputed— because the defendants do not attempt to rebut it in their jurisdictional statement or in their brief opposing the plaintiffs’ motion to affirm—is the District Court’s detailed, district-by-district factfinding respecting the legislature’s remedial Senate Districts 21 and 28 and House Districts 21 and 57.

That factfinding, as discussed above, turned up sufficient circumstantial evidence that race was the predominant factor governing the shape of those four districts. See, e.g., 283 F. Supp. 3d, at 436. As this Court has previously explained, a plaintiff can rely upon either “circumstantial evidence of a district’s shape and demographics or more direct evidence going to legislative purpose” in proving a racial gerrymandering claim. Miller, supra, at 916. The defendants’ insistence that the 2017 legislature did not look at racial data in drawing remedial districts does little to undermine the District Court’s conclusion—based on evidence concerning the shape and demographics of those districts—that the districts unconstitutionally sort voters on the basis of race. 283 F. Supp. 3d, at 442."

Finally, with respect to NC's last argume SCOTUS affirmed that District Courts appointment of a Special Master, finding that, “'providing the General Assembly with a second bite at the apple' risked 'further draw[ing] out these proceedings and potentially interfer[ing] with the 2018 election cycle.'"

Note: There were also two issues that were briefly decided by the Court.

Issue 1 - NC's challenge to the Special Master's redrawing: "The defendants argue briefly that the District Court’s adoption of that recommendation was error because the Special Master’s remedial plan was “expressly race-conscious” and succeeded in “compel[ling] the State to employ racial quotas of plaintiffs’ choosing.” Juris. Statement 34–35. Yet this Court has long recognized “[t]he distinction between being aware of racial considerations and being motivated by them.” Miller, supra, at 916. "

Issue 2 - Plaintiff's challenge to other districts that were redrawn by the General Assembly that had not been declared racially gerrymandered by the District Court: "The same cannot be said, however, of the District Court’s actions concerning the legislature’s redrawing of House districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties. There the District Court proceeded from a mistaken view of its adjudicative role and its relationship to the North Carolina General Assembly. The only injuries the plaintiffs established in this case were that they had been placed in their legislative districts on the basis of race. The District Court’s remedial authority was accordingly limited to ensuring that the plaintiffs were relieved of the burden of voting in racially gerrymandered legislative districts. See DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 353 (2006). But the District Court’s revision of the House districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties had nothing to do with that. Instead, the District Court redrew those districts because it found that the legislature’s revision of them violated the North Carolina Constitution’s ban on mid-decade redistricting, not federal law. Indeed, the District Court understood that ban to apply unless such redistricting was “required by federal law or judicial order.” 283 F. Supp. 3d, at 443. The District Court’s enforcement of the ban was thus premised on the conclusion that the General Assembly’s action was not “required” by federal law. The District Court’s decision to override the legislature’s remedial map on that basis was clear error."

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