The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last month against alleged racial gerrymandering in North Carolina could impact congressional and state legislative elections nationwide.
After the 2010 census, North Carolina lawmakers were accused of redrawing congressional districts to give Republicans an advantage.
"Gerrymandering" refers to the division of voting districts in order to maximize the voting power of a certain group while limiting others'.
Ruth Greenwood is an attorney and Senior Legal Counsel for the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case.
The decision is an important one, she said.
“The decision is a big win, particularly for communities of color," Greenwood said. "The Supreme Court said you can’t assign people to districts purely based on race without doing an analysis of the historical conditions and underlying racial polarization. So to affirm that racial gerrymandering is something that’s not allowed is a good thing.”
Greenwood sees the decision being applied across the United States.
“All of those states accused of gerrymandering have now had their plans struck down, notably Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina," she said. "In the future, in every single state, when legislators are drawing lines, they can’t place individuals into districts according to race. They have to engage in a functional analysis of the districts - a very good thing.”
Gerrymandering by the numbers is unacceptable, too, Greenwood said she and the CLC believe.
“I think the Supreme Court explicitly said that there isn’t a numerical cutoff point," she said. "They said that each community is different, and we need to look at actual communities and how voters elect their candidates of choice. It’s not something where you can just look at a number and get an answer."
And Greenwood said she and the CLC wish to extend their win on alleged racial gerrymandering to partisan gerrymandering, as well. After the courts struck down the original 2011 legislative district map in North Carolina, state lawmakers instead drew a map they openly admitted was a partisan gerrymander. Greenwood said she believes such partisan gerrymanders should be illegal, as well.
The Supreme Court is expected to soon weigh in on a case from Wisconsin challenging the legality of partisan gerrymandering, directly.
But as Illinois, a state whose Democratic leaders have been accused of gerrymandering the state to benefit Democrats, and other states await the court's input on the Wisconsin case, the North Carolina decision doesn't appear to have much bearing on the Prairie State, said Greenwood.
“So far, the Illinois legislators have never been accused of racial gerrymandering, so hopefully that will continue to be the case," Greenwood said. "I think we have districts at the state and congressional levels that are drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and we need to make sure that that continues to happen.
“For 2020 and beyond, Illinois will still need to comply with the Voting Rights Act so that minority communities are able to elect their candidates of choice. What the North Carolina ruling will mean is that legislators will have to understand community dynamics before redrawing the lines, rather than just putting purely numerical thresholds on districts.”
The Campaign Legal Center, is a non-partisan, non-profit organization which says its goal is to "protect the fundamental right of all Americans to participate in the political process.”