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Black voters South Carolina

People cast their ballots at the Richland County Voter Registration amd Elections Office on October 6, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

'Packing and Cracking': New Lawsuit Challenges South Carolina's Racial Redistricting

"This is classic gerrymandering. South Carolina lawmakers surgically carved up Black communities in key areas of the state to entrench their own political power. It has got to stop."

Brett Wilkins

Alleging that South Carolina's Republican-controlled Legislature gerrymandered the state's House district map to intentionally discriminate against Black voters, civil rights groups on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Henry McMaster and state legislative and elections leaders to challenge the new redistricting law.

"The South Carolina Legislature enacted racially gerrymandered and intentionally dilutive state House districts that minimize Black South Carolinian voting power."

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court by the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and voter Taiwan Scott, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the ACLU of South Carolina, Boroughs Bryant LLC, Arnold & Porter, and the General Counsel's Office of the NAACP. Those same groups sued the state in October over delays in mandatory post-Census redistricting.

Defendants include McMaster—who is a Republican—as well as GOP state Sens. Thomas Alexander and Luke Rankin; state Reps. James Lucas, Chris Murphy, and Wallace Jordan; and South Carolina Election Commission Chair John Wells.

At issue is H. 4493, which the plaintiffs claim was passed "in a flawed and nontransparent process" meant to disempower Black voters and solidify GOP control of the state Legislature.

"This is classic gerrymandering. South Carolina lawmakers surgically carved up Black communities in key areas of the state to entrench their own political power," said ACLU attorney Somil Trivedi. "It has got to stop."

The lawsuit alleges the South Carolina Legislature, which delayed redrawing the state's electoral districts as required after every decennial Census, "traded one constitutional violation—malapportionment—for two others: racial gerrymandering and intentional racial discrimination."

State lawmakers' gerrymandering "and intentional vote dilution in certain state House districts continues South Carolina's shameful history and ongoing record of discrimination," the suit claims.

"For every redistricting cycle since Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965... courts have needed to adjudicate racial discrimination claims relating to South Carolina state and/or congressional redistricting plans," the complaint notes. "This post-2020 redistricting cycle is no different."

According to the lawsuit:

House Bill 4493... which enacted racially gerrymandered districts into law and was motivated, at least in part, by a discriminatory purpose, is the latest example of a decades-long pattern by the Legislature of proposing or enacting state legislative districts that discriminate against Black voters to maintain the majority's power and deny Black South Carolinian voting power. The Legislature did so by using race as the predominant factor in creating certain state House districts without a legally acceptable justification and having a discriminatory purpose in packing and cracking Black voters to dilute their vote.

"Packing" refers to the practice of placing people of color in the same district in order to prevent them from having greater political power in surrounding districts. "Cracking" is the splitting of communities of color to dilute their power in a given district.

Brenda Murphy, president of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, said that "this lawsuit is necessary to remedy the racial discrimination motivating H. 4493's passage and racially gerrymandered state House districts."

"For every redistricting cycle since Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965... courts have needed to adjudicate racial discrimination claims relating to South Carolina."

"Equal electoral access and fair representation are critical for the members and volunteers of the South Carolina NAACP," Murphy stated. "Elected officials must be responsive and accountable to the needs of Black communities throughout South Carolina."

Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at LDF, said in a statement that the redistricting law "represents the latest iteration of South Carolina's ongoing record of racial discrimination against Black voters."

"The South Carolina Legislature enacted racially gerrymandered and intentionally dilutive state House districts that minimize Black South Carolinian voting power," she continued. "And the harms are predictable: Black voters will have fewer opportunities to elect candidates of choice or influence elections and thus have representatives who will be responsive to their needs for housing, economic, educational, and public safety opportunities."

"The challenged discriminatory districts should not stand," Aden asserted.


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