South Carolina

Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP (Congressional Map Challenge)

Location: South Carolina
Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Case Type: Merit Brief
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: May 23, 2024

What's at Stake

South Carolina unlawfully assigned voters to congressional districts based on their race and intentionally discriminated against Black voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

In 2022, South Carolina adopted a racially gerrymandered congressional map. The state mapmakers moved hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians to different congressional districts, carefully calibrating the districts’ Black populations in all but one district to a low enough level to deny Black voters the equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The legislature singled out minority communities, cracking predominantly Black cities and neighborhoods across multiple districts to reduce their electoral influence. As a result of those changes, Black voters have no meaningful opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in six of the seven districts in South Carolina.

The ACLU, along with the ACLU of South Carolina, NAACP LDF, and Arnold & Porter, sued on behalf of the South Carolina NAACP and affected voters to challenge the constitutionality of the new congressional map. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids the sorting of voters on the basis of their race, absent a compelling interest. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments also forbid intentional racial discrimination. The suit alleged that South Carolina violated these principles.

After a two-week trial, a panel of three federal judges unanimously concluded that South Carolina’s congressional map is unconstitutional. The court found that the legislature imposed a racial target of 17% in Congressional District 1—the coastal district from which tens of thousands of Black Charlestonians had been excised. Notably, the court found that the legislature abandoned multiple redistricting principles in order to “bleach[]” Black voters from their former district. Those changes were not needed to respond to population shifts identified by the 2020 Census.

South Carolina appealed to the Supreme Court. The state contends that it moved Black voters for partisan reasons, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly explained that race may not be used as a proxy for political characteristics.

Because the trial court correctly found the state engaged in racial gerrymandering and racial discrimination, the ACLU is advocating for the implementation of a fair and lawful map in time for the 2024 election cycle. On March 28, 2024, three-judge district court issued an order allowing South Carolina’s racially gerrymandered congressional map to remain in place for 2024 elections. This order comes in response to defendants’ delayed request to keep the unconstitutional map in place pending appeal of the panel’s post-trial order to the U.S. Supreme Court.

UPDATE: On May 23, 2024, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s finding that Congressional District 1 in South Carolina is an unconstitutional gerrymander. The Court also ruled that the district court applied the wrong standard for Plaintiffs’ intentional vote dilution claim and remanded that piece of the case for further proceedings at the district court.

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