DURHAM, N.C. — Voters and voting rights advocates won a major court victory today in North Carolina, where three federal judges unanimously found that 28 of the state’s legislative districts are racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn after the November 2016 election.
The three-judge court in the Middle District of North Carolina found that the North Carolina General Assembly unconstitutionally used race when it drew the districts following the 2010 U.S. Census, needlessly increasing the percentage of black voters in districts where black voters had been successfully electing their candidates of choice for years.
“After careful consideration of the evidence presented, we conclude that race was the predominant factor motivating the drawing of all challenged districts,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Moreover, Defendants have not shown that their use of race to draw any of these districts was narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.” However, the three judges cautioned that today’s decision “should in no way be read to imply that majority-black districts are no longer needed in the state of North Carolina.”
As a result of North Carolina’s redistricting formula, “I was plucked out of my district and placed into another district simply because of my race,” said Sandra Covington, a retired elementary school teacher in Fayetteville and the lead plaintiff in the case. Covington, along with 30 other individuals from across the state who reside in the racially gerrymandered districts, filed the lawsuit challenging the districts. “Today’s decision is a clear message that North Carolina voters have a right not to be assigned to election districts based solely on the color of their skin,” she said.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 continues to be necessary “but should not be used to pack black voters or minimize their influence in the political process,” said Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who called the General Assembly’s race-based approach to redistricting after the 2010 Census “a recipe for permanent racial segregation.” The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with Poyner Spruill LLP and Adam Stein of the Tin Fulton law firm, represents the plaintiffs in the case.
Trial in the case took place April 11-15 in Greensboro before Circuit Judge James Wynn, District Judge Thomas Schroeder, and District Judge Catherine Eagles.
For the full opinion, click here.