Cooper v. Harris


At a Glance

Overturning the district court decision and upholding the North Carolina CD 1 and CD 12 as drawn would sanction state legislatures’ explicit use of race to achieve partisan benefit. 

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About this Case

*The name of this case has been changed from McCrory v. Harris to Cooper v. Harris.

After the 2010 Census, the North Carolina General Assembly redrew its congressional map. Before redistricting, black voters in two of North Carolina’s congressional districts, CD 1 and CD 12, were able to elect candidates of their choice despite not making up a majority of the voting age population in those districts. In other words, there was enough crossover voting by Anglo voters supporting the minority candidate of choice that the districts regularly elected minority candidates.

Nonetheless, when the General Assembly redrew the maps in 2011, it intentionally added thousands of black voters to CD 1 and CD 12 to increase the black voting age populations in those districts to above 50 percent. By purposely increasing the concentration of black voters in CD 1 and CD 12, where black voters were already consistently able to elect candidates of their choice, the General Assembly sought to diminish the impact of black voters in other parts of the state. 

North Carolina voters challenged the actions of the General Assembly in 2013, arguing that the state used an impermissible racial quota to draw the districts. Because the racial quota was the “predominant factor” in drawing CD 1 and CD 12, the voters argued that the two districts constitute unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. 

A three-judge district court panel found that race was indeed the predominant factor in drawing both CD 1 and CD 12. The court also found that the General Assembly’s reliance on race was not narrowly tailored to protect minority voting rights and prevent liability under the Voting Rights Act.

The state appealed the decision of the three-judge court to the Supreme Court, which noted probable jurisdiction in June of 2016. Argument in the case is not yet set, but will likely occur during the October 2016 Term.

What’s At Stake

Overturning the district court decision and upholding CD 1 and CD 12 as drawn would sanction state legislatures’ explicit use of race to achieve partisan benefit. Such a decision would also ratify the state’s disingenuous use of the Voting Rights Act, a key tool for protecting minority voting power, as a shield for their purposeful dilution of black voting power across the state.

The General Assembly puts forward two defenses to their racially motivated districting in CD 1 and CD 12; both are dangerous and incorrect. First, the General Assembly argues that the fifty percent threshold for CD 1 was necessary to protect itself from future vote dilution claims under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Since CD 1 regularly elected minority candidates already, this argument is unsupportable. Rather, the General Assembly is seeking to use the VRA’s protection of minority ability-to-elect districts to shield itself from liability when it unnecessarily packs black voters to minimize their power elsewhere.

The General Assembly has further argued that CD 12 is constitutional because the use of race to sort voters is coextensive with the General Assembly’s political goals. This cannot be the rule. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the use of race as a proxy for partisanship is no more constitutional than any other predominant use of race in redistricting.

CLC submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the North Carolina voters who challenged North Carolina’s racial gerrymander. The League of Women Voters, the Voting Rights Institute, the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Association of Social Workers also signed on to the brief.

This case is one of a series of Supreme Court cases CLC has engaged in on the question of racial gerrymandering that unfairly diminishes the voting power of minority voters. This Term, in Bethune Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, CLC submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Virginia citizens and voters who challenged Virginia’s racial gerrymander of the state legislature. Bethune Hill also challenged the use of racial quotas in redistricting and race as a proxy for partisanship. Last Term, CLC submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Wittman v. Personhuballah, another Virginia case, about the congressional map, where legislators packed black voters into one district as a means of gaining partisan advantage. 

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