Following the 2020 census, South Carolina Republicans sought to redraw the state’s seven congressional districts, with a primary objective of favoring the Republican party in the first congressional district. In 2018, Democrat Joe Cunningham unexpectedly secured the seat, but it was narrowly won back by Republican Nancy Mace in 2020.
The goal was to redesign the district, encompassing Charleston and the southeast part of the state, to be more favorable to Republicans. An approach involved incorporating reliably Republican areas from three counties into the district.
However, the original district had a Black population of approximately 17.8 percent, and the planned additions would increase this to 20 percent, making it politically competitive. To address this, Republican mapmakers decided to move Black voters from Charleston out of the first district and into the neighboring sixth district, represented by Democrat Jim Clyburn. This move resulted in the removal of over 30,000 Black voters, constituting 62 percent of Charleston’s Black population in the district. Subsequently, Mace comfortably won re-election in 2022.
Ethics of Remapping
The legality of this reshuffling is now under scrutiny in the case Alexander v South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, set for a Supreme Court hearing. A panel of three judges previously ruled that the redrawing amounted to a deliberate racial segregation of Black voters, contravening the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ensures equal protection under the law.
The court noted that the new configuration suspiciously replicated the exact percentage of Black voters from the previous district, suggesting a racially motivated objective to maintain a 17 percent Black representation. A ruling invalidating the redrawn lines could enhance competitiveness for Democrats in the first congressional district.
South Carolina Republicans contend that their actions were driven by partisan, not racial, motives. They argue that racial data was not a consideration during the redrawing process. The Republicans maintain that the adopted map was the only plan that bolstered the Republican vote share, whereas alternatives proposed by the plaintiffs would have transformed it into a predominantly Democratic district. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s historical stance against racial gerrymandering, asserting that it is unconstitutional to sort voters into districts solely based on race without a legitimate purpose, a 2019 decision stated that federal courts have limited power to prevent gerrymandering driven by partisan objectives.
‘GOP Will Lose Case’
Adam Bruton, a Senior Researcher at the London-based intelligence firm Winter Circle Ltd, told 19FortyFive: “There is a big problem with gerrymandering in America, and because of the huge disparities in racial voting patterns in the south especially, partisan gerrymandering will inevitably become racial gerrymandering in the way it is carried out.
“I think it was once said if Mississippi whites voted like the typical white American, and Mississippi Blacks the typical Black American, the state would be bluer than Ohio, for example (so close to a swing). There is a huge bias in the South for whites to vote Republican and blacks to vote Democratic, which means, if you want to do a partisan gerrymander as the GOP has said it was trying to do, you have to separate black and white pretty much
“Gerrymandering is bad either way, and I personally think the Supreme Court erred in ruling that partisan gerrymandering was fine on both moral and procedural grounds. That being said, the court has been effective in enforcing fairer maps when said gerrymandering becomes racial, even if that isn’t the intended goal of the gerrymander. They did it recently in Alabama and I believe Louisiana, for example, which have similar racial disparities.
“I would expect the GOP will lose this case for similar reasons – a partisan gerrymander in the South is almost always a direct racial gerrymander between black and white, ergo they’ll have to retrench. SC’s congressional races will get a little more competitive as a result, and with how close things are in terms of partisan split, a few extra seats in the South could make or break whoever the next’s President’s congress is.”
Georgia Gilholy is a journalist based in the United Kingdom who has been published in Newsweek, The Times of Israel, and the Spectator. Gilholy writes about international politics, culture, and education.