COLUMBIA — South Carolina's redrawn state house and congressional maps were allowed to stand Monday, as the U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a federal court's ruling that the state's new lines are fair and don't discriminate against racial minorities.
Six black voters from Florence, Sumter, Georgetown, Berkeley, Darlington and Charleston counties sued Gov. Nikki Haley, the Legislature and other state officials earlier this year. They claimed the GOP-dominated state Legislature drew lines that segregate white and black voters into election districts and pack black voters into one congressional district, calling it “voting apartheid.”
The suit implored the judicial panel to throw out the plan, make lawmakers draw a new one and bar any elections based on them. The Department of Justice had already said it would not challenge the new plan.
In March, three federal judges in South Carolina upheld the new lines for the state's U.S. House districts – including the state's new 7th Congressional District along the coast – and the state House seats, saying that the plaintiffs had provided no convincing evidence that legislators drew the lines to dilute blacks' voting power.
That decision allowed South Carolina's primary process to continue on schedule. Days after the ruling, Dick Harpootlian – a Columbia attorney who also serves as chairman of the state Democratic Party – appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Redistricting is a once-a-decade process to ensure political district lines reflect population changes as shown by the U.S. Census. South Carolina is picking up a seventh U.S. House seat – something the Palmetto State had years ago, before population fell in 1930 – in the state's northeastern corner on the coast.
Proposed maps for South Carolina and other Southern states require federal approval under the Voting Rights Act because of a history of inequitable treatment of black voters. The U.S. Justice Department had already cleared South Carolina's maps.
Last month, Harpootlian said he was encouraged by a ruling from the U.S. District Court in Washington, which found that district maps drawn and approved by Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature didn't comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
The Washington three-judge panel found evidence of discrimination in new lines drawn for that state's congressional and state Senate districts, saying prosecutors failed to prove they were drawn “without discriminatory purposes.”
On Monday, Harpootlian said he had his eyes on another case the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up that would deal with a larger issue: the constitutionality of the portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires South Carolina and other states seek approval for voting law changes.
“We're patient,” Harpootlian said. “I have a hard time believing the Supreme Court is going to say you can use the Voting Rights Act to destroy the so-called coalition districts. I think that's going to be dealt with in some context.”
South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said in a prepared statement that the district lines have been upheld at every turn. He dismissed the lawsuit as “a frivolous, poorly guided last ditch effort of political motive.”