The Supreme Courtaffirmed Monday a three-judge district court's finding that 28 state legislative districts drawn by the North Carolina legislature were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, but vacated the lower court's order for special elections in response.
The high court, with no recorded dissents, sent the case back to a three-judge federal district court panel that in November had ordered North Carolina to conduct a new round of elections this year for the 28 legislative seats at issue.
The case, North Carolina v. Covington, is one of a handful of challenges to the Tar Heel State's Republican-drawn district lines working their way through the court system.
The order came a week after the justices met behind closed doors to decide whether to take up the case filed by 31 North Carolina residents in 2015. "That minimal reasoning would appear to justify a special election in every racial-gerrymandering case - a result clearly at odds with our demand for careful case-specific analysis".
The unsigned order, issued without any dissent, affirms a three-judge panel's ruling previous year that 28 state legislative districts were drawn improperly because legislators considered race in the crafting of new lines in 2011.
The Supreme Court, however, left the decision to host a special election in the hands of the lower court.
While the Supreme Court order sounds like good news for voting rights advocates who want to see Republican racial gerrymandering efforts dismantled, the Court's opinion may actually encourage more racial gerrymandering in the future.
The lower court now has a tough decision on its hands.
UPDATED 1:31 P.M.: This post was updated to clarify that the Supreme Court's summary of its ruling did not give any reasons why it made a decision to uphold the lower court's ruling. "We can not have confidence that the court adequately grappled with the interests on both sides of the remedial question before us". "We think there is still time to implement special elections in the impacted districts, and we will do everything we can to make sure that happens", Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, counsel for the redistricting challengers, said in a statement. In North Carolina's First district, the black voting age population was increased by more than five percent in the packing scheme.
Democrats need to capture three House seats or six Senate seats now held by Republicans to eliminate the GOP's veto-proof majorities and enhance Cooper's power.
In May, a divided court ruled that two of the state's congressional districts were illegal racial gerrymanders.
"The Constitution entrusts states with the job of designing congressional districts", Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.