A Black woman and Black man standing in separate voting booths, filling out a ballot
Image credit: SeventyFour on istock.com

In recent years, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder—the case that weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act—Black voters have combated attempts to dilute their voting power. For instance, states like Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana have held elections using congressional maps that were deemed to be unconstitutional because they were drawn intentionally to limit Black voters’ representation. Most recently, a federal court ruled that voters in South Carolina must vote in the upcoming primary election using a map that the same panel previously ruled unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering.

Voting rights advocates are decrying that yet another election will be held under a map ruled unconstitutional.

The federal court, composed of two judges nominated by President Obama and one nominated by President Biden, has not changed its opinion. It still contends that the map, which was drawn by the state’s Republican-led legislature, dilutes the Black vote by pushing 30,000 Black voters out of the state’s First Congressional District and moving them to the Sixth District, which James Clyburn, a Black Democrat, has held for over 30 years. However, they are allowing the election to proceed under the map because the case Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

The case was sent to SCOTUS after the state appealed the federal court’s decision. In oral arguments in October 2023, both sides asked SCOTUS to expedite the case to ensure a final ruling was in place before the election season, but that did not occur. Thus, with the primary election set to take place on June 11, 2024, the federal court ruled that the election must go on with the current map in place.

“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 judges wrote.

However, advocates are pushing back against this decision.

Leveling the Playing Field

“We cannot allow delay tactics to impede progress towards fair and equitable representation in our democracy.”

In response to the court’s decision to continue holding the election under the map, counsel for the plaintiffs in the case—the state conference of the NAACP and Taiwan Scott, the sole individual plaintiff in the case—argued that “the irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and all voters in [Congressional District] 1 from conducting an election using an illegal districting map far outweighs any administrative burden on Defendants.”

They also added that the state could implement a remedial congressional plan without disturbing the 2024 June 11 primary or the November 5 general election.

The current map was first enacted in 2022, so this year will mark the second time that the map will be in place for a congressional election. At a time when it is increasingly evident that every election has consequences, voting rights advocates are decrying that yet another election will be held under a map ruled unconstitutional.

“We cannot allow delay tactics to impede progress towards fair and equitable representation in our democracy,” said Scott.

Scott, a member of the Gullah Geechee community and a long-term resident of the Hilton Head area, knows what it is like to feel ignored by elected officials, particularly regarding issues like climate gentrification. For him, ensuring that people in his community have a voice is not just a political struggle but also a personal one.

“Our state legislature must prioritize the integrity of our democracy by enacting a new map created in fairness for all voters. We cannot allow the voices of our residents to be silenced in these crucial election cycles,” said Brenda Murphy, the president of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP—another plaintiff in the case—in a press statement.

In an interview with NPQ, Murphy noted that leading up to the drawing of the map, the state conference of the NAACP had a campaign that was training advocates and communities to be familiar with the redistricting process and its impact on local communities. Local and state NAACP activists were vocal in providing feedback to elected representatives about what they hoped the redistricting process would look like. Among their most significant recommendations was that communities should not be unnecessarily split, but that didn’t happen.

Murphy notes that under the current map, Charleston County was heavily split. Many communities of color were also split from the First Congressional District.

“Those areas share the same school boards, the same medical facilities—but now those areas won’t have a voice in terms of what is happening in their communities, even when you look at resources that may be coming to Congressional District One,” Murphy said.

Though racial gerrymandering cases certainly are not new, attorneys are developing new strategies to argue against them.

“Our state legislature must prioritize the integrity of our democracy by enacting a new map created in fairness for all voters.”

The Pushback against Gerrymandering

Antonio Ingram, assistant counsel for the Legal Defense Fund, is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in the case. In an interview with NPQ, he noted that this case is unique because in many previous racial gerrymandering cases attorneys argued by citing the Voting Rights Act. But in this case, attorneys cited the United States Constitution as they argued that Black voters in South Carolina were having their votes diluted.

“Under the Voting Rights Act, a remedy is to draw a second majority-minority district. In our case, the remedy would be to draw a map that is free from racial discrimination, but it may not be a majority-Black district,” Ingram said.

Given the uncertainty of the future of the Voting Rights Act, Ingram added that it is important to have the US Constitution as another tool to argue with.

The Legal Defense Fund was one of the groups that helped argue the Allen v. Milligan case before SCOTUS in 2023. The 5–4 victory in favor of drawing new, nondiscriminatory maps in Alabama was a surprise to many and helped keep Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act banning racial discrimination in voting policies intact.

While Ingram is deeply concerned about the implications of voters having to vote under an unconstitutional map as they continue to wait for SCOTUS’s decision, he is hopeful that the decision will eventually be the right one.

Ingram thinks about Allen v. Milligan and how many believed the court “would not go in favor of Black voters, but it did.”