On June 17, 2008, a coalition of organizations including the Lawyers’ Committee submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in this litigation concerning the redistricting of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and the requirements for demonstrating a violation of the results standard of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301. Other groups joining the brief were the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Demos, and the North American South Asian Bar Association.
The dispute in Bartlett grew out of the Supreme Court’s holdings in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), and subsequent cases that, in order to demonstrate that a redistricting plan (or at-large or multi-member district method of election) violates Section 2 by diluting minority voting strength, the relevant minority group must be “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district.” Id. at 50. Prior to Bartlett, it was well settled that plaintiffs may satisfy this requirement by demonstrating that a reasonably compact single-member district may be drawn in which minority voters constitute a numerical majority of the eligible-voter population. The issue in Bartlett was whether there are circumstances in which plaintiffs may satisfy the Gingles requirement even though a numerical majority-minority district cannot be drawn.
In their brief, the Lawyers’ Committee and its coalition partners argued that plaintiffs should also be able to satisfy the Gingles requirement by showing that a reasonably compact single-member district may be drawn in which minority voters constitute a “functional” majority of the eligible-voter population. A functional majority exists where minority voters have a realistic potential to elect candidates of their choice, notwithstanding the presence of racially polarized voting, because of a predictable level of white crossover voting. The brief further argued that the Court should reaffirm that a numerical majority-minority district satisfies Gingles without an additional showing that the numerical majority is a functional majority.
The Supreme Court held the Gingles requirement cannot be satisfied where the potential district at issue includes a minority population that would be less than 50 percent of the district’s voting age population. 556 U.S. 1 (2009).