First SC Congressional district must be redrawn, judges rule

A federal court has thrown out the newly-drawn First Congressional District for SC after ruling it was drawn to intentionally disadvantage Black voters.
Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 12:19 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 6, 2023 at 11:25 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - A federal court has thrown out the newly-drawn First Congressional District for South Carolina after ruling it was drawn to intentionally disadvantage Black voters.

A lawsuit filed by the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and Taiwan Scott challenged the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s plan for the First, Second and Fifth Congressional Districts, which were redrawn after the state Senate received 2020 census data. The state used the maps in this past November’s midterm elections after the Republican-dominated state Legislature redrew the lines earlier this year following the 2020 U.S. Census.

In a ruling filed Friday, Federal Judges Mary Geiger Lewis, Toby Heytens and Richard Gergel found the First Congressional District to be in violation of the plaintiff’s rights and ordered that elections in that district be suspended until further orders from the court.

“The court finds that race was the predominant factor motivating the General Assembly’s adoption of Congressional District No. 1,” court documents state. “With the movement of over 30,000 African American residents of Charleston County out of Congressional District No. 1 to meet the African American target of 17%, Plaintiffs’ right to be free from an unlawful racial gerrymander under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been violated.”

The term gerrymandering refers to manipulating the boundaries of an electoral district to favor one party or class of people. Friday’s ruling said the coastal 1st District running from Charleston to Hilton Head Island was drawn to remove Black voters and make it a safer seat for Republicans.

Rep. Nancy Mace currently represents the district. She beat Joe Cunningham in 2020 after Cunningham became the first Democrat to flip a U.S. House seat in South Carolina in 30 years.

Mace won by just over 1 percentage point in 2020, but after the district was redrawn, won by 14 percentage points in November.

Former U.S. Rep Joe Cunningham is sharing his thoughts on a federal judge’s ruling to redraw the state’s First Congressional District, which he used to represent.

Cunningham didn’t mince words about the decision. Cunningham says he agrees with the judges’ opinion, saying that given the chance, politicians will redraw the lines with their own interests in mind. He also says those voters fell into Congressman Jim Clyburn’s district, and with the maps. He says the state legislature has created seven safe districts with no competitive elections.

“I’m just glad that the court system here in South Carolina recognized the same thing we’ve been saying for a very long time. I mean, you may remember the campaign we ran on keeping Charleston together, and that’s what people in the Lowcountry want. They want a district that represents the diversity but also the landscape, as well,” Cunningham said.

The judges said the defendants in the case made “no showing that they had a compelling state interest in the use of race in the design of Congressional District No. 1 and thus cannot survive a strict scrutiny review.”

The court ordered the South Carolina General Assembly to present a remedial map for consideration by March 31.

The judges sided with the Senate, however, on the maps for the Second and Fifth districts.

After the new congressional maps were approved, civil rights groups swiftly filed a lawsuit charging the state Legislature with choosing “perhaps the worst option of the available maps” for Black voters.

The NAACP, which brought the lawsuit challenging the maps, has said it will ask that special elections be held in any districts deemed unconstitutional.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.