South Carolina voting map faulted for racial bias by court revived for 2024

By Thomson Reuters Mar 28, 2024 | 1:58 PM

By John Kruzel

(Reuters) – A federal court that previously threw out a Republican-drawn South Carolina electoral map for bias against Black voters decided on Thursday that it can be used in this year’s congressional elections, a ruling that could undercut Democratic chances of winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The federal three-judge panel acknowledged the “unusual” nature of its decision to reinstate a map that it found to have moved 30,000 Black residents out of a congressional district based on their race in violation of their constitutional rights.

But the panel said the approaching election calendar and the U.S. Supreme Court’s delay in ruling on an appeal by Republican state officials had left the judges little choice. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Oct. 11 but has not issued a ruling. The parties in the case had asked the Supreme Court to decide the case by the end of last year.

At issue was a map adopted in 2022 by the Republican-led state legislature that redrew the boundaries of one of South Carolina’s seven U.S. House districts – one that includes parts of Charleston along the Atlantic coast.

“With the primary election procedures rapidly approaching, the appeal before the Supreme Court still pending, and no remedial plan in place, the ideal must bend to the practical,” the panel wrote on Thursday.

The primary election is scheduled for June 11, with the absentee ballot deadline for military and overseas voters on April 27. The general election is on Nov. 5.

Leah Aden, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represented the Black voters who challenged the map, expressed disappointment with Thursday’s outcome.

“A second election under an infirm map is justice delayed when plaintiffs have made every effort to get a decision and remedy before another election under a map that denies them their rights,” Aden said.

A federal three-judge panel in January 2023 ruled that the map sorted voters along racial lines and diminished the clout of Black voters in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments, which guarantee equal protection under the law and prohibit race-based voting discrimination.

Black voters tend to support Democratic candidates.

The Republican legislators and other state officials who appealed the panel’s ruling argued that the map was designed to secure partisan advantage, a practice that the Supreme Court in 2019 decided was not reviewable by federal courts – unlike sorting voters based on race, which remains illegal.

Republicans are seeking to defend their slim majority in the House in the election. Republicans hold a 218-213 House margin, but that will drop by one when Republican congressman Mike Gallagher’s resignation takes effect on April 19.

(Reporting by John Kruzel in Waashington; Editing by Will Dunham)