Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

After the 2010 Census, pursuant to the state Constitution, the North Carolina state legislature appointed House and Senate Committees to prepare a redistricting plan for U.S. House of Representatives districts. The heads of the respective committees hired a redistricting coordinator to design the new districts. The coordinator was given instructions orally; there were no written records of the precise instructions he received. The heads of the committees published public statements that highlighted certain criteria used in creating their proposed redistricting plan, such as the fact that, according to Supreme Court interpretation of the requirements of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, districts must be constructed to have a “Black Voting Age Population” (BVAP) of 50% plus one. To comply with this criterion, two districts were altered to have a BVAP over 50%, which meant that there were two more majority-black districts than there were under the 2001 Congressional Districting Plan. The state legislature enacted the new plan and the Department of Justice granted it preclearance pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.


David Harris and Christine Bowser are U.S. citizens registered to vote in the two districts at issue. They sued and argued that North Carolina used the Voting Rights Act’s requirements as a pretext to place more black voters in those two districts to reduce black voters’ influence in other districts. The district court determined that race was the predominant factor motivating the redistricting plan and therefore that the redistricting plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander that violated the Equal Protection Clause.



  1. Did the lower court err in determining that North Carolina’s new districting plan constituted a racial gerrymander that violated the Equal Protection Clause, either by applying an incorrect standard or by relying on erroneous fact-finding?

  2. Should the claims have been dismissed under either the doctrine of issue preclusion or claim preclusion?

  3. Should the Supreme Court resolve a split between the lower court in this case and the North Carolina Supreme Court, which reached different conclusions on the same issue?


  1. The district court did not error in determining that North Carolina’s new districting plan constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and neither claim nor issue preclusion based on the state court case dictate the outcome of this case. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion for the 5-3 majority. The Court held that the district court was presented with sufficient evidence to find that race was the predominant rationale for the redistricting. Additionally, North Carolina did not meet its burden of proving that it had a compelling interest to sort voters based on race that it met with narrowly tailored means. Although complying with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) might serve as a compelling reason, the state must demonstrate that it had good cause to think that it would transgress the requirements of the VRA if it did not draw race-based district boundaries. Because there was no evidence of “white bloc voting” prior to the new districting plan, there was no sufficient reason for the state to think there was a potential VRA violation that required race-based districting. The Court also held that, although issue or claim preclusion may arise when plaintiffs in two cases have a special relationship, the state never proved that such a relationship existed between the plaintiffs in this case and those in the similar state court case.

    In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the relevant section of the VRA does not apply to redistricting and therefore could not be used to justify racial gerrymandering.

    Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which he argued that, in evaluating a potential racial gerrymander, courts must assume the good intentions of the legislature. Therefore, the plaintiffs must meet the burden of showing that the legislature was improperly motivated by race and could have achieved any legitimate political objectives through another redistricting plan. The plaintiffs in this case failed to meet that burden by not submitting an alternative map of the districts in question. Although the majority opinion argued that the alternative map was only one method of showing that race was the predominant redistricting factor, Justice Alito wrote that the requirement was a sound one, based in precedent, that reflected the familiar allocation of burdens of proof. Additionally, Justice Alito argued that the lower court was not presented with sufficient evidence that considerations about race dominated the redistricting effort. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined in the opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

    Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the discussion or decision of this case.

SCOTUS Opinions & Orders

SCOTUS Opinions & Orders

NC improperly used race as predominant factor in creating two districts; Hague Service Convention does not prohibit service of process by mail; Domestic corporation resides only in state of incorporation for purposes of patent venue statue

OPINIONS (1)  Cooper v. Harris:  By a vote of 5-3 the judgment of the three-judge...