Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Natasha Kang
Natasha Kang is a senior at the University of California, Davis.
By 1965, Congress had discovered that existing federal anti‐discrimination laws were not nearly enough to prevail over the opposition of state officials. When the Department of Justice tried to eliminate discriminatory electoral practices on a case‐by‐case basis, it found that as soon as a discriminatory practice was proven unconstitutional, another one took its place.  Thus, a stronger piece of voting rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, was passed to effectively uproot state disenfranchisement.  Sadly, the VRA did not bring about the end of disenfranchisement, as seen in the events following the 2010 United States Census.
After a national census is taken, state officials use census data to reconsider and redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts.  This formally allows state officials to incorporate shifts in the population and guarantee equal representation for their constituents with respect to the principles of the VRA. However, in reality, equal representation is far from guaranteed—and “redistricting” is becoming more well‐known as “racial gerrymandering” in the state of North Carolina.
State officials in North Carolina drew up and submitted their redistricting plan in 2011, splitting 19 counties for the North Carolina Senate and 49 counties for the North Carolina House of Representatives.  Soon after, plaintiffs filed a complaint against the plans on the grounds that they excessively split communities by unlawfully using race as the predominant factor in making their decisions. Furthermore, the complaint argued that the redistricting did not “rationally relate to a valid objective.”  Most importantly, the plaintiffs claimed that the North Carolina General Assembly “packed” the state’s black citizens into a small number of districts.  “Packing” refers to a redistricting tactic wherein minority voters are bounded into highly concentrated districts, thus effectively “diluting the population’s voting power from anywhere else.”  In other words, the new district maps effectively compromised the voting strength of minorities.
The plaintiffs brought allegations of racial gerrymandering, excessive division of counties and precincts, and unethical purpose against Bob Rucho, the chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting Committee, and David Lewis, the chairman of the North Carolina House of Representatives Redistricting Committee, among others in Dickson vs. Rucho.  On February 6, 2012, the trial court dismissed claims of partisan gerrymandering and later rejected the other claims of racial gerrymandering and unnecessary splitting of counties and districts on July 8, 2013.  The trial court concluded that the General Assembly applied permissible redistricting principles for “partisan advantage” and that no “constitutional violations occurred.”  The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the decision, holding that the redistricting complied with the VRA and that the districts survived under strict scrutiny in the trial court’s judgment. 
However, although the state Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the decision, their verdict was 4‐2, with one justice abstaining. While the majority focused on percentages of black voters and concluded that they satisfied constitutional requirements, dissenter Justice Cheri Beasley criticized the majority for ignoring the trial court’s “explicit findings of fact” and “too generously” characterizing the General Assembly’s plan.  She went on further to express her conviction that politics were serving as a pretext, or mask, for race‐based redistricting.
Thirteen nationally recognized professors specializing in electoral law agreed with Justice Beasley’s conviction, condemning the North Carolina legislature’s attempt to use the VRA as a “shield of its racial gerrymander” in an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court.  The brief expressed a legitimate fear that this case’s decision could set a precedent for states to be able to undermine the VRA by using the civil rights legislation to “dilute the voting strength of minority communities.”  In other words, the VRA would be used against the minorities it was created to protect. The brief went on to discount the arguments of the decisions passed down on the case, arguing that the scrutiny used was not strict and that
the state Supreme Court erred in not using strict scrutiny as the standard of review in a case heavily involving race.
Dickson vs. Rucho is currently waiting for its petition for a writ of certiorari to be seen in the US Supreme Court conference scheduled for April 17 this year. Some speculate that a recent US Supreme Court 5‐4 ruling against Alabama’s redistricting plans may influence the Court to accept the Dickson petition.  The 2012 Alabama maps were challenged for their use of racial gerrymandering by Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, along with other parties. It should be noted that the decision in that case was a close 5‐4, with Justice Kennedy siding with the more liberal justices this time around. If the Supreme Court takes up this case, the future of the VRA in protecting minorities from racial redistricting will
certainly be a topic for discussion.
 Voting Rights Act of 1965, The United States Department of Justice, http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/intro/intro_b.php.
 Redistricting Data, United States Census 2010, http://www.census.gov/2010census/data/redistricting‐data.php.
 2010 Redistricting Cases, National Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org/documents/legismgt/2010Redist/Dickson_v_Rucho.pdf.
 Where are the Lines Drawn?, All About Redistricting – Loyola Law School Los Angeles, http://redistricting.lls.edu/where.php.
 North Carolina All About Redistricting – Loyola Law School Los Angeles, http://redistricting.lls.edu/states‐NC.php
 Trial Court Ruling of Dickson vs. Rucho, http://redistricting.lls.edu/files/NC%20dickson%2020130708%20judgment.pdf.
 Dickson vs. Rucho, JUSTIA US Law, 2015, http://law.justia.com/cases/north‐carolina/supreme‐court/2014/201pa12‐2.html.
 Appellate Court Opinion on Dickson vs. Rucho, http://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=1&pdf=32487.
 Amicus Brief filed in support of Dickson vs. Rucho, http://redistricting.lls.edu/files/NC%20dickson%2020150217%20law%20profs.pdf.
 Dickson vs. Rucho petition for writ of certiorari, http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Earls.Dickson.ret_.pet_.final_.pdf.
 Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Rules Against Alabama in Redistricting Case,” The New York Times, March 24, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/us/supreme‐court‐rules‐against‐alabama‐in‐redistricting‐case.html?_r=0.
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