The Supreme Court’s Monday decision to strike down a North Carolina congressional district map is being hailed as a victory for voting rights advocates — though some caution that the path ahead for Democrats fighting gerrymandering has just become more treacherous.
The court’s decision in Cooper v. Harris found that North Carolina’s legislature had improperly considered race when it drew two congressional districts after the 2010 census. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion with three liberal colleagues. Justice Clarence Thomas, the anchor of the court’s conservative wing, joined them.
“The Supreme Court has now made it abundantly clear to Republican legislators that their cynical game of using race as an excuse to gerrymander is over, and that the courts are not going to sit by when challenges are brought,” said Marc Elias, the Democratic lawyer who argued the case. “And I plan on bringing those challenges.”
Elias said his phone has been “ringing off the hook” with calls from legislators who believe the decision could open their states to new legal challenges.
“We are looking for other places where Republican legislatures have committed the same legal error,” he said.
But Thomas’s concurring opinion offered a warning to those celebrating the ruling. In his opinion, Thomas said the North Carolina defendants improperly relied on the Voting Rights Act, which he believes does not apply to redistricting at all.
Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the Supreme Court after arguments in the North Carolina case, did not participate in the ruling.