Nate Persily On Race And Districting SCOTUS Decision


Publish Date:
May 26, 2017
  • Persily, Nathaniel,
  • Driscoll, Sharon
SLS - Legal Aggregate
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The May 22 SCOTUS decision Cooper v. Harris found that North Carolina Republicans relied too heavily on race when they drew two congressional voting districts, affirming that the “Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevents a State, in the absence of ‘sufficient justification,’ from ‘separating its citizens into different voting districts on the basis of race.’” In this Q&A, voting rights and redistricting expert Professor Nate Persily discusses the importance of this decision.

Can you explain the ruling?

The Court ruled that two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional because they excessively relied on race by overconcentrating African American voters. In District 1, the Court rejected the argument that the Voting Rights Act required the state to adopt a requirement of a majority minority district—that is, a district in which over fifty percent of the voters are African American.  The Court ruled that the state cannot use blunt targets like “majority-minority,” but must look at what percentage (given the extent of racially polarized voting) would provide an equal opportunity for the African American community to elect its preferred candidates.

In striking down North Carolina’s 12th congressional district, the Court rejected the state’s argument that its predominant partisan purpose excused an otherwise unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The court found that race and party were so intertwined in NC that packing African Americans into a district to effectuate a Republican gerrymander could still constitute unconstitutional racial discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

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