US Supreme Court on relief in redistricting cases

North Carolina, et al. v. Sandra Little Covington, et al.

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina No. 16–1023.

Date of Judgment: June 5, 2017

Per curiam.

In 2015 several registered North Carolina voters brought the present action in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleging that 28 majority black districts in the new plan which was bought by the North Carolina General Assembly which redrew state legislative districts in 2011 to account for population changes revealed by the 2010 census, were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

The District Court ruled for the plaintiffs holding that race was the predominant factor in the design of each challenged district, and that in none was that use of race supported by a strong basis in evidence and narrowly tailored to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Later District Court ordered additional reliefs in the form of special elections.

To explain why these measures were warranted, the District Court stated that while special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander. North Carolina appealed the District Court’s remedial order to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court observed that relief in redistricting cases is fashioned in the light of well-known principles of equity. A district court therefore must undertake an equitable weighing process to select a fitting remedy for the legal violations it has identified. But rather than undertaking such an analysis in the present case, the District Court addressed the balance of equities in only the most cursory fashion. The minimal reasoning would not suffice and thus the District Court did not adequately grapple with the interests on both sides of the remedial question. The Supreme Court thus vacated the District Court’s remedial order.