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Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Responds to Supreme Court Argument in Key Redistricting Cases

For Immediate Release December 5, 2016

Washington, D.C.-The United States Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in two significant appeals concerning claims of racial gerrymandering.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said, “As the nation prepares for a new round of decennial redistricting, today’s cases provide an opportunity for a short-handed Supreme Court to clarify the applicable standard.  There is no constitutional basis to deem majority White districts as normative or to presuppose that majority-minority districts deviate from the norm.  We are encouraged by today’s argument and urge the Supreme Court to issue a decision consistent with its precedent.”

In Golden Bethune-Hill, et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et al., a three-judge panel of the United States District Court had held that Virginia’s 2011 state legislative redistricting did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because the plan was not in conflict with traditional districting principles, such as geographic compactness of the districts.  State legislators had indicated that they wanted to create certain districts with at least 55 percent African American voting age population, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act.  In Patrick McCrory, et al. v. David Harris, et al., another three-judge panel had held that North Carolina’s 2011 congressional redistricting had violated the Equal Protection Clause, when legislators made similar statements as to the desire to create majority-minority districts, but the plan did not subordinate to  traditional districting principles.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed briefs as amicus curiae in both cases, aided by pro bono counsel Cozen & O’Connor LLP in the Virginia case, in support of neither party, and by Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, in the North Carolina cases, where it supported the plaintiffs-appellees.  In both cases, the Lawyers’ Committee argued that the Court should adhere to the principles laid down in prior decisions holding that states should be compelled to justify redistricting plans by the highest standard of “strict scrutiny,” only if the plan failed to subordinate to traditional districting principles. The objective standard, the Lawyers’ Committee argued, provides a strong basis upon which to assess racial gerrymandering.

About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; and criminal justice.  For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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