The U.S. Supreme Court this week struck down North Carolina’s federal House district boundaries as unconstitutional, finding the lines were drawn based on race.
However, Democrats and liberals who welcomed the decision may not be cheering for long, said a constitutional law and Supreme Court expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Discrimination against racial minority groups in voting remains a real problem, one the Supreme Court has shown little inclination to address,” said Greg Magarian, professor of law.
“Voting-rights advocates continue to need remedial actions by elected branches of the federal and state governments, and the North Carolina decision self-consciously falls into the court’s line of cases that restrict such remedial actions,” he said. “The decision perpetuates a long-standing contrast in the court’s voting rights doctrine: racial discrimination is quintessentially impermissible, while partisan discrimination is quintessentially permissible. That doesn’t bode well for the court’s upcoming consideration of Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander.”
Ironies abound in this case, Magarian said.
“For decades, the Supreme Court’s racial discrimination jurisprudence hasn’t actually been about discrimination against racial minority groups,” he said. “Rather, it’s been all about white people’s grievances against government efforts to fight racial discrimination, especially in voting. In the North Carolina case, though, Justice (Elena) Kagan retranslated the court’s cases on ‘reverse discrimination’ in voting to address actual, straightforward discrimination. The state, which wanted to hurt African-Americans’ voting power, tried to defend its actions by saying it was trying to boost African-Americans’ voting power. Justice (Clarence) Thomas (the only conservative judge to side with the majority) found that defense either disingenuous or impermissible on its own terms.”
In 2017, conservatives seem to care more about suppressing Democratic votes than African-American votes, Magarian said.
“The two categories often run together. The Supreme Court’s latest voting case suggests that conservative states may be able to keep discriminating against Democrats as long as they don’t appear too obviously to be discriminating against African-Americans,” he said.