High Court Upholds N.C. Voting District

ByABC News
April 18, 2001, 10:57 AM

April 18 -- A divided U.S. Supreme Court today allowed a contested North Carolina congressional district to stand today, saying race was not the only consideration in drawing its boundaries.

The 5-4 ruling is expected to guide the redrawing of voting district lines in North Carolina and across the nation. The court has considered the fate of this North Carolina voting district four times in the last eight years.

In 1993, the court held that racially-drawn districts could violate the rights of white voters.

In the case of North Carolina's 12th District, however, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court's majority that "the evidence does not show that racial considerations predominated in the drawing of boundaries. That is because race in this case correlates closely with political behavior."

A lower court ruling saying the district was unconstitutionally based on race was "clearly erroneous," in its findings, Breyer said. Also voting in the majority were Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Dissenting were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Writing for the dissent, Thomas said the lower court ruling should not be overturned.

Interpreting the Boundaries

At issue in the case is the design of District 12, which was drawn in 1992 after the 1990 Census to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. The new boundaries, 160 miles long and sometimes as narrow as the highway, created a black-majority in the district.

In every election since the redrawing, the district's voters have elected Democrat Rep. Mel Watt to a seat in Congress. The district includes a central portion of the state including Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, which large black populations and tend to vote Democratic.

Previously, no African-American had represented North Carolina in Congress in close to a century. Similar boundaries were drawn in the state's 1st Congressional District in Eastern North Carolina with similar effect, electing Rep. Eva Clayton.