District Court Allows South Carolina's Racially Gerrymandered Congressional Map to Remain in Place for 2024 Election Cycle

March 28, 2024 12:00 pm

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A 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.

More than a year ago, the three-judge panel unanimously found that South Carolina’s Congressional District 1 was a racial gerrymander and designed with a discriminatory purpose.

The district court had blocked elections from proceeding in South Carolina's racially gerrymandered congressional map in Congressional District 1 and ordered the state legislature to redraw it given its harm toward Black voting power. However, with the legislature's deliberate inaction in crafting a new map, the court reconsidered its stance, noting, “the ideal must bend to the practical.”

The fight for a fair District 1 map goes back to 2021, when members of the plaintiff organizations pleaded with state officials to adopt non-discriminatory district lines. The years-long purposeful delay by the state legislature underscores a troubling effort to silence Black South Carolina voters and undermine the principles of fair representation and equal opportunity in the electoral process. In light of the court's modification to the injunction, key stakeholders and advocacy groups have expressed their disappointment and condemnation of the state's actions:

“The officials elected to represent all of the people of South Carolina filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court that would advance the use of a map that strips Black South Carolinians in the district of a voice via vote,” said Taiwan Scott, an individual plaintiff in this case. “The people of our state and our country deserve more than suppression and discriminatory practices. What we deserve is the right to a fair process and an equal say. We will continue to fight to bring justice to congressional elections in South Carolina.”

“For over a century, the NAACP has worked fervently to protect Black Americans’ access to the ballot box. Make no mistake - these discriminatory maps are a direct attempt to suppress Black voices ahead of a consequential election,” said Brenda Murphy, president of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. “We will not stand idly by as the rights of thousands of South Carolinians continue to be overlooked. The Court's ruling today, further delaying these proceedings, continues to tip the scale of justice during a crucial moment in our democracy in an undemocratic attempt to sway the outcome of the upcoming election. We must strive for a system where every voice is heard and every vote counts, free from the stain of discrimination.”

“South Carolina's failure to rectify its racially gerrymandered congressional map blatantly disregards our brave clients’ voices and the rights of Black voters,” said Adriel I. Cepeda Derieux, deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. “By refusing to take meaningful action, the legislature has undermined democracy and further entrenched voter suppression in the state. Rest assured, we will fight on.”

“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,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel for the Legal Defense Fund (LDF). “As with any civil rights struggle, we will be unrelenting in our fight for our constitutional rights.”

“South Carolina lawmakers continue to be shameless in their pursuit of power at all cost,” said Allen Chaney, legal director for the ACLU of South Carolina. “Rather than accepting demographic changes along the coast, they manipulated district boundaries to thwart the will of voters. Rather than accepting the unanimous ruling that their map was illegal, they manipulated the appellate process to wring out an extra election on unconstitutional maps. I hope voters are paying attention.”

Background: The decision is part of the U.S. Supreme Court case regarding South Carolina’s racially gerrymandered congressional map in 2022 that moved hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians to different congressional districts, including moving more than two-thirds of Black Charlestonians out of that one county. While a decision from the Supreme Court is still pending, the map will remain in place for the 2024 election season despite its outcome.

A panel of three federal judges unanimously ruled in January 2023 that Congressional District 1, anchored in Charleston and coastal South Carolina, was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander drawn with a discriminatory purpose. The panel determined that the South Carolina legislature “bleached” Black voters out of Congressional District 1 and made a “mockery” of traditional districting principles. The South Carolina Legislature appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and oral arguments in the case were heard on Oct. 11, 2023.

The ruling is here: https://wp.api.aclu.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/ORDER-modifying-the-last-paragraph-of-the-Courts-Order-of-January-6-2023-Dkt.-No.-493-at-page.pdf

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