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 was a U.S. Supreme Court that challenged South Carolina’s congressional redistricting map as a racial gerrymander designed with discriminatory purpose under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit argued 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 May 23, 2024, in a 6-3 vote the Supreme Court issued a decision that reversed a federal trial court’s unanimous finding that Congressional District 1 in South Carolina’s 2022 map is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The decision allows South Carolina’s discriminatory congressional map to stand. The Court also ruled that the district court applied the incorrect standard to Plaintiffs’ intentional vote dilution claim and returned that claim to the district court for further proceedings.

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. Aiding in this fight were testimonies from 24 witnesses, of which six were experts, alongside 652 pieces of evidence demonstrating the hallmarks of racial discrimination in the design of the 2022 congressional map. 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. 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. 

Before it reached the Supreme Court, LDF and co-counsel tried this case over eight days before a federal three-judge panel unanimously ruled that there was a racial target on the number of Black South Carolinians assigned to Congressional District 1; that race more than partisan affiliation explained that assignment; and, the legislature disregarded traditional redistricting principles. 

The Supreme Court’s decision is a rejection of the historical deference given to the trial court’s factual findings and long settled precedent. The ruling adds to the already difficult evidentiary burden that plaintiffs must demonstrate to remedy racial discrimination in voting. This divided decision underpins efforts nationwide to deny Black voters fair access to the political process to elect candidates of their choice. 

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.  

From Shelby County v. Holder to Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

Voting Rights Under Attack, and How we Fight Back

In 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder effectively dismantled Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the process that since 1965 required states, like South Carolina, with documented histories of racial discrimination in voting practices to seek approval from the federal government before implementing their laws. 

In the absence of that protection, South Carolina no longer had the obligation to show that its 2022 congressional map did not racially discriminate against Black voters, requiring plaintiffs to ring the alarm about that harm during the legislative consideration of congressional maps and then file suit in federal court for redress. This ruling is further evidence that racial discrimination in voting has not been eradicated in South Carolina and that Congress must act to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — such as through passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — that have been steadily weakened by the Supreme Court. 

Case Background and Timeline

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.

On May 23, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that rejected the unanimous post-trial decision and long-settled precedent, reversing the federal trial court’s unanimous finding that Congressional District 1 in South Carolina’s 2022 map is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The Supreme Court’s decision allows South Carolina’s racially discriminatory congressional map to stand. 

Why Redistricting Matters

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.

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. 

More on Voting Rights and Redistricting

LDF Original Content

Unraveling the Many Costs of Discriminatory Redistricting

This piece explores how three states with discriminatory maps have shirked their responsibilities to their constituents, paving the way for the passage of oppressive legislation.

LDF Original Content

We trace South Carolina’s long and sordid history of discriminatory redistricting and the road to the Supreme Court in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.

LDF Original Content

Understanding the role of race in the redistricting process as a means of ensuring equitable representation and political power is critical. 

Reports

LDF, MALDEF, and AAJC published a guide to the redistricting process, outlining how communities can get involved and advocate for fair maps. 

Policy

LDF has closely monitored the redistricting process in key states to ensure that maps are drawn fairly and do not disenfranchise Black voters. This guide provides an overview of LDF’s work during the 2021 redistricting cycle.

Litigation

We’ve compiled answers to frequently asked questions about Allen v. Milligan and its impact on voting rights and redistricting.

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