Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership | This website contains attorney advertising.
May 23, 2024

Supreme Court Decides Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

On May 23, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, No. 22-807. The Court held that the finding of a three-judge district court panel that race was predominant in the design of a redistricting map was clearly erroneous. The Court also held that the finding of racial vote dilution was clearly erroneous.

Following the 2020 census, South Carolina had to redraw two congressional districts because of population shifts. The legislative subcommittee redrawing the maps had the express goal of creating a stronger Republican tilt in one district, and was also guided by traditional districting principles. The new map achieved the legislature’s political goal and slightly raised the black voting-age population for District 1.

The NAACP and a voter from District 1 challenged the plan, alleging that it resulted in racial gerrymander and diluted the vote of the State’s black voters. A three-judge district court panel agreed. 

The Supreme Court reversed under clear-error review. The Court explained that the Federal Constitution permits political but not racial gerrymandering. Thus, when race and partisan preferences are highly correlated, courts must carefully apply two principles. First, a party challenging a map’s constitutionality must “disentangle race and politics” to prove that the legislature was motivated by race as opposed to partisanship. Second, a court must presume the legislature acted in good faith.

The Court found that the district court panel failed to follow either principle. The Court first noted that there was no direct evidence of a racial gerrymander, and all of the circumstantial evidence was weak because it could be explained by the drafters’ political goal. In any event, the circumstantial evidence could not overcome the presumption of legislative good faith. The Court also found that the four expert reports on which the challengers relied were fundamentally flawed and could not support the panel’s findings. And the Court held that the panel “critically erred” by failing to draw an adverse inference against the challengers for not providing a substitute map showing how the State could have achieved its legitimate political objectives while producing greater racial balance. 

The Court also reversed the panel’s judgment on the vote-dilution claim. The Court held that the panel applied an incorrect legal standard and relied on the same findings of fact and reasoning that the Court had determined were clearly erroneous. Therefore, the Court remanded for reconsideration of the vote-dilution claim alone.

Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Sotomayor and Justice Jackson joined.

Download Opinion of the Court

The material contained in this communication is informational, general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. The material contained in this communication should not be relied upon or used without consulting a lawyer to consider your specific circumstances. This communication was published on the date specified and may not include any changes in the topics, laws, rules or regulations covered. Receipt of this communication does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In some jurisdictions, this communication may be considered attorney advertising.

Related Legal Services

Related Topics

The Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP website uses cookies to make your browsing experience as useful as possible. In order to have the full site experience, keep cookies enabled on your web browser. By browsing our site with cookies enabled, you are agreeing to their use. Review Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP's cookies information for more details.