On May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Cooper v. Harris, formerly known as McCrory v. Harris. In this case, the Court considered a redistricting plan introduced in North Carolina after the 2010 census. Plaintiffs argued that North Carolina used the Voting Rights Act’s “Black Voting Age Population” requirements as a pretext to place more black voters in two particular U.S. House of Representatives districts in order to reduce black voters’ influence in other districts. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina determined that the redistricting plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander that violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause because race was the predominant factor motivating the new plan.
Appellants contend the lower court decision against them erred in five critical ways: (1) presuming racial predominance from North Carolina's legitimate reliance on Supreme Court precedent; (2) applying a standard of review that required the State to demonstrate its construction of North Carolina Congressional District 1 was “actually necessary” under the VRA instead of simply showing it had “good reasons” to believe the district, as created, was needed to foreclose future vote dilution claims; (3) relieving plaintiffs of their burden to prove “race rather than politics” predominated with proof of a workable alternative plan; (4) clearly erroneous fact-finding; and (5) failing to dismiss plaintiffs' claims as being barred by claim preclusion or issue preclusion.
By a vote of 5-3, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. In an opinion by Justice Kagan, the Supreme Court held that (1) North Carolina's victory in a similar state-court lawsuit does not dictate the disposition of this case or alter the applicable standard of review; (2) the district court did not err in concluding that race furnished the predominant rationale for District 1's redesign and that the state's interest in complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could not justify that consideration of race; and (3) the district court also did not clearly err by finding that race predominated in the redrawing of District 12. Justice Kagan’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy joined. Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
And now, to discuss the case, we have Hans A. von Spakovsky, who is Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow, The Heritage Foundation.