Supreme Court strikes down Republican-drawn North Carolina congressional voting districts

WASHINGTON, May 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Republicans in North Carolina unlawfully took race into consideration when drawing congressional district boundaries, concentrating black voters in a bid to diminish their overall political clout.

The justices upheld a lower court's February 2016 ruling that threw out two majority-black U.S. House of Representatives districts because Republican lawmakers improperly used race as a factor when redrawing the legislative map after the 2010 census. The court was unanimous on upholding the ruling on one of the districts and split 5-3 on the other, with three conservatives dissenting.

The decision came in one of a number of lawsuits accusing Republicans of taking steps at the state level to disenfranchise black and other minority voters who tend to back Democratic candidates.

RELATED: A look at the fight over North Carolina's voter ID law

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North Carolina voter ID law
A pile of government pamphlets explaining North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law sits on table at a polling station as the law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary in Charlotte, North Carolina March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students head to their precinct to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The university provided bus transportation throughout the day to the precinct. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: A lone North Carolina State University student, right, votes in the primaries at the provisional ballot booth at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students stand in line to receive their ballots at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students wait in line to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images )
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University senior Jonathan Powell reviews sample ballots before voting in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
A worker carries a sign that will be displayed at a polling place that will inform voters of the new voter ID law that goes into effect in 2016 at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Am election worker checks a voter's drivers license as North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary election at a polling place in Charlotte, North Carolina March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
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Critics accused Republicans of cramming black voters into what the NAACP civil rights group called "apartheid voting districts" to diminish their voting power and make surrounding districts more white and more likely to support Republicans. Both districts are held by the Democrats. Of North Carolina's 13 representatives in the U.S. House, 10 are Republican.

Race can be considered in redrawing boundaries of voting districts only in certain instances, such as when states are seeking to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. That law protects minority voters and was enacted to address a history of racial discrimination in voting, especially in Southern states.

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The Supreme Court has never said legislative districts cannot be mapped based on plainly partisan aims like maximizing one party's election chances. North Carolina Republicans said one of the two districts was drawn on purely partisan grounds to benefit Republicans at the expense of Democrats, and the other was drawn to comply with the demands of the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had not yet joined the court when arguments in the case were heard, did not participate in the ruling.

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