You don’t see a Kagan-Breyer-Ginsburg-Sotomayor-Thomas majority often in U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but today that quintet joined together to deal a blow to North Carolina Republicans. In the decision in Cooper v. Harris, the eight-member pre-Gorsuch roster upheld a district court’s ruling that two congressional districts in North Carolina were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, putting an end to one part of a six-year saga that began with redistricting in 2011.
The two districts in question, District 1 and 12, were drawn in 2011 after the last Census and the 2010 midterms, as part of a nationwide and well-funded push by Republicans to reshape electoral maps and solidify a partisan advantage. In North Carolina, the state and federal congressional redistricting efforts also played part in the state’s ongoing conflicts over voting rights, and both sets of maps eventually found their way to state and federal courts.
The state Republican-led General Assembly made further tweaks to congressional districts that were already highly gerrymandered, and created a web of districts with little geographic coherence, in the process packing more black voters into certain districts and diluting their voting strength in others. District 12 already took the shape of a river cutting through the middle of the state prior to redistricting, but Republicans condensed its shape to connect black communities without picking up white voters in between. At times, the district was barely wider than the I-85 corridor that connected major black community centers in North Carolina’s Piedmont region.
Republicans pursued the opposite tactic with respect to District 1, trimming its low-density eastern regions to add almost 100,000 people from black neighborhoods around Durham. The result in both of these districts was black majorities among the voting-age population, with the black voting-age population (BVAP) increasing by four percentage points in District 1 and a whopping seven percentage points in District 12.