Many in the media are trumpeting Hunt v. Cromartie, the Supreme Court’s latest redistricting decision, as a defeat for critics of racial gerrymandering. And indeed, the Court did reverse a determination that North Carolina had, once again, violated the Fourteenth Amendment by taking race into account in drawing district lines. However, as is indicated both by the unanmity of the decision and its authorship — by Justice Clarence Thomas, an ardent opponent of racial gerrymandering — the case really involved the conventional application of summary judgment standards to a discrimination claim. What Hunt does foreshadow is the difficult and fact-intensive nature of the inevitable post-2000 round of redistricting litigation.
Those challenging the bizarrely shaped district may justifiably be frustrated by this case, their third trip to the Supreme Court in six years. This same litigation over North Carolina’s Twelfth Congressional district, which was then known as Shaw v. Reno, was the first in which the Court held that the equal protection clause barred the deliberate segregation of voters into districts by race, even if the State’s asserted purpose was to create a “safe” majority-minority district. This recognition of a so-called Shaw claim kicked off the litigation challenging racial gerrymandering that has continued throughout this decade. The second time around, the Court held that North Carolina had indeed violated the Fourteenth Amendment by creating a district that stretched for 180 miles along an interstate and that was, for much of its length, no wider than the I-85, solely to garner a black majority.
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