On November 26, North Carolina asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Bartlett v Strickland, no. 07-689. On August 24, 2007, the North Carolina Supreme Court had struck down the 2003 legislative districting plan, in regard to State House district 18. The Attorney General hopes to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that the State Supreme Court was wrong, and that the 2003 districts should be upheld. Here is the state’s cert petition.
The issue involves a possible conflict between the North Carolina Constitution, which requires that counties not be divided unnecessarily, and section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects racial and ethnic minorities when districts lines are drawn. The 2003 districting plan drew House district 18 from part of Pender County and part of New Hanover County, to enable African-Americans to elect a state representative. African-Americans have been able to elect a state representative in the 18th district. However, the State Supreme Court had said that the legislature should not have drawn district 18, because it violates the State Constitution (about keeping counties undivided, to the extent possible). Furthermore, the State Supreme Court had said that the federal Voting Rights Act does not apply to district 18, since it is still less than 50% African-American.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has had many cases involving the Voting Rights Act, it has never decided if section 2 of that Act applies when the district drawn to protect racial minorities is still barely majority-white.
Meanwhile, a new federal lawsuit was filed recently, charging that if the State Supreme Court was right, many North Carolina legislative districts violate the State Constitution. Also that new lawsuit charges that since the State Supreme Court had held district 18 to be unconstitutional, it should have ordered new legislative district boundaries immediately, instead of saying the matter could wait until 2010.
The U.S. Supreme Court is already pondering two election law cases (from New York and Washington state), and has agreed to hear two other election law cases (concerning Indiana’s government photo-ID law, and the power of the Alabama Governor to fill vacancies on county commissions).