Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP: Racial Gerrymandering Case

Date Filed: 10/12/2021

Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

Challenging Racial Gerrymandering at the Supreme Court

Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP is a U.S. Supreme Court that will determine the fate of South Carolina’s congressional map. Shortly after the map was enacted, plaintiffs challenged it as a racial gerrymander designed with a discriminatory purpose under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The case was filed on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and Taiwan Scott, a Hilton Head resident and member of the Gullah-Geechee community. They are represented by the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of South Carolina, Arnold & Porter.

The lawsuit argued that the map intentionally discriminates against Black voters and denies Black voters’ equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice. The lawsuit argues that under the map Black communities in Congressional District No. 1, which contains Charleston County, are targeted and split up in a way that dilutes their power in voting for the representatives of their choice. The map is discriminatorily drawn and fails to comply with the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

On October 11, 2023, LDF Senior Counsel Leah Aden delivered oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. Aden explained why the Court should affirm the panel’s finding of “stark racial gerrymandering.”

“They [legislators] were consistently looking at race because they had an expectation that race was a predictor of how political parties would perform,” said Aden.

“In light of the total record, it reflects that there was a racial target, it reflects that there was a significant sorting of Black people, it reflects unrebutted expert evidence of race rather than party explaining the assignment of voters, it reflects a disregard of traditional redistricting principles — and all of that evidence in total is more than plausible, in the record, for using race as a means to harm individual plaintiffs,” Aden added.

Black voters in South Carolina deserve to be fully and fairly represented and accounted for in our democracy.

South Carolina’s congressional map is the latest instance in the state’s long, painful history of racial discrimination that must be remedied. South Carolina’s maps have been litigated every decade since 1970.

It is crucial that every voter is fairly represented in our democracy, and in turn, that South Carolina’s district maps are drawn in line with the Constitution and federal law. Unfair mapping and gerrymandering weaken community power by denying certain groups the ability to choose a candidate of their choice to fight for the needs of their community.  

Redistricting and congressional representation directly affect the funding and resources a county or city receives, from health care to education and everything in between. Discriminatory redistricting limits voters’ access to representatives who can advocate for economic development, affordable housing, healthcare, education (including for historically Black colleges and universities), and broadband internet. 

Case Background and Timeline

Challenging South Carolina Racially Gerrymandered Maps

In December 2021, LDF and c0-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and an individual voter, Taiwan Scott challenging South Carolina’s 2021 congressional map as a racial gerrymander. The lawsuit charges that South Carolina’s congressional map is discriminatorily drawn and fails to comply with the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit charges that the congressional map passed by the legislature intentionally packs and cracks Black communities and denies Black voters’ equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice.

LDF filed a second amended complaint in February 2022, amending the existing lawsuit to reflect the belated passage of Senate Bill 865 (S.B. 865), which, like its counterpart in the House, adopted a racially gerrymandered congressional map that intentionally cracks and packs Black communities. S.B. 865 shuffles voters into electoral districts based on their race in order to prevent Black voters from impacting more than one congressional election statewide. 

Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP went to trial in November 2022. During an eight-day trial, fact and expert witnesses provided a robust recording demonstrating the flawed and non-transparent redistricting process and the resulting new congressional map’s harmful effects on Black voters’ electoral opportunities. Plaintiffs highlighted how the state’s legislature engineered its new map cutting through Black communities to suppress Black voting power — and demonstrated how white lawmakers hid behind arbitrary, shifting, and tenuous justifications to achieve their discriminatory actions. Experts in demography, political science, redistricting, and mathematics described the unique harm that the current congressional map has on Black voters’ ability to elect their candidates of choice compared to race-neutral alternative map options, lending further support to the strong evidence of unconstitutional line-drawing by the state.  

On January 6, 2023, the federal court issued its ruling and ordered South Carolina to redraw its 2021 enacted congressional map, ruling that a district anchored in Charleston County is a racial gerrymander. The panel concluded that the South Carolina General Assembly targeted Black voters by removing more than 30,000 Black Charlestonians out of Congressional District 1 based on their race and to diminish their voting power. The unanimous panel ruled that the Legislature unconstitutionally set out to achieve an artificially-low target Black population in Congressional District 1, which includes Charleston County. The court held this violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment. A unanimous panel acknowledged the principle that “[s]tate legislators are free to consider a broad array of factors in the design of a legislative district, including partisanship, but they may not use race as a predominant factor and may not use partisanship as a proxy for race,” as they did in designing aspects of South Carolina’s congressional map. the court found that aspects of South Carolina’s congressional map had “bleached” Black voters out of a district and made a “mockery” of traditional districting principles. 

In May 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will hear South Carolina’s appeal to the federal court ruling ordering the legislature to redraw its congressional map. 

On October 11, 2023, LDF Senior Counsel Leah Aden argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Black South Carolina voters in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. Aden showed how South Carolina disproportionately and discriminatorily targeted Black voters for movement outside of Congressional District No. 1. “ … The unrebutted expert evidence is that race was a better predictor for movement [than political affiliation] and that … Black voters were significantly and disproportionately targeted for movement,” she argued.

The maps drawn during the 2021 redistricting cycle will shape the allocation of political power and representation at every level of government for years to come.

New political maps are drawn as part of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process triggered by census data. Redistricting is the process of redrawing district maps that shape legislative, congressional, and political power. These maps determine where you can vote

Redistricting encompasses the process by which states and the jurisdictions within them redraw the district maps that shape legislative, congressional, and local power. Where district lines are drawn can determine where residents can vote, whom they can vote for, and even how responsive elected officials are to constituents’ requests and how resources are allocated.

“Cracking” refers to splitting communities of color into different districts to prevent them from exercising greater political power. “Packing” refers to placing people of color into the same district in greater numbers than necessary to elect candidates of choice to prevent them from exercising greater political power in surrounding districts.

Power on the Line(s): Making Redistricting Work for Us

LDF and parters created a guide guide to familiarize you with what redistricting is all about, and learn how you can make sure your voice is heard in the redistricting process.

LDF's Redistricting Work State by State

LDF has been closely monitoring the redistricting process in key states, including Alabama, to ensure map's are drawn fairly. We've compiled our work by state here.

The 2021 redistricting cycle is the first without the preclearance protections of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in place to protect against discriminatory redistricting.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder effectively dismantled Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the pre-approval process that required states with histories of racial discrimination in redistricting to seek approval from the federal government before implementing plans. The absence of the federal preclearance process is a major detriment to voters of color.

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