The federal body rules on illegal gerrymander in South Carolina’s congressional district

Federal decisions on other racial redistribution cases involving house districts in Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas blocked the judges’ decision in the Alabama case. However, South Carolina’s decision will not be affected because the lawsuit against the congressional card says it violates the Constitution, not the Voting Rights Act.

The NAACP’s South Carolina conference sued the state legislature after lawmakers approved the new congressional card last January. The organization alleged in the lawsuit that the map structures of the first, second, and fifth congressional districts unlawfully violate the rights of black voters under the 14th and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution.

But as the trial wound down in late November, judges focused on the First District, which hugs the Carolina coast from the state’s largest city, Charleston, to Hilton Head. Democrats and Republicans swapped control of the House seat in the 2018 and 2020 elections, each time deciding less than a percentage point.

The House of Representatives map approved in January moved 62 percent of Charleston County’s black voters from the first district to the sixth district, a seat that Rep. Jim Clyburn, a black Democrat, held for 30 years.

The change helped turn the new First District into a Republican stronghold. In November, incumbent Republican Rep. Nancy Mays won re-election by 14 percentage points.

Republican lawmakers freely admitted in court that they pulled the First Circuit for partisan reasons. But they said they deliberately avoided looking at the racial breakdown of the new map, a defense Republicans have increasingly used in other district redistribution battles to guard against accusations of bias.

In Friday’s panel opinion, the three judges noted that a map drafter hired by the state legislature had testified that he tried to make as few changes as possible when drawing maps for the state’s six other assembly seats. But he said he abandoned that approach when redrawing the First District and instead made “dramatic changes” in Charleston County that “created a much greater disparity.”

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