On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) presented oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.
During the summer 2013 trial, SCSJ represented several statewide nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, The North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Democracy NC, and the NC NAACP, seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho andNAACP v. NC.On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate.
SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution. In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.
SCSJ also argues that the plans violate the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts. The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.
Post-election analysis conducted by SCSJ and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error. All of this evidence was presented to the State Supreme Court by SCSJ.
“Racial gerrymandering to create separate ‘white’ and ‘black’ districts is both wrong and unconstitutional. We need to get out of the mindset that black voters will only elect a black candidate and white voters will only elect a white candidate – this just isn’t true anymore. In the end, racially packed voting districts take away the ability of all racial groups to elect candidates of their choice,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of SCSJ client the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Inc.
“More than 2,500 voters in just seven monitored counties lost their right to vote in 2012 because of the unprecedented way district lines zigzagged through precincts and neighborhoods in order to divide voters by race,” said Bob Hall, executive director of SCSJ client Democracy North Carolina. “That kind of disenfranchisement points to the serious problems with what amounts to computerized apartheid – and hopefully the court will say it must stop.”
Shoshannah Sayers is the Deputy Director at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Graduating from UNC Chapel Hill School of Law in 2004, Shoshannah immediately went into civil rights work as a Post-Doctoral Scholar at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, where she worked on public education reform and voting rights matters. She then spent a year at the Center for Community Action in Lumberton, North Carolina, doing community organizing and policy analysis for the grassroots nonprofit.