Racial gerrymandering in North Carolina will be the focus of arguments today before the U.S. Supreme Court. The short-staffed court is reviewing a lower court ruling that struck down how North Carolina redrew its congressional districts in 2011.
In February, a federal three-judge panel ruled Republican state lawmakers put too much emphasis on racial quotas in two congressional districts. One included Charlotte, and the other included Durham. Lawmakers said they were complying with the Voting Rights Act by increasing the number of African-Americans so that they made up the majority of voters.
But the judges ruled that's a misinterpretation of the law. They cited a U.S. Supreme Court case out of Alabama that warned against "prioritizing mechanical racial targets above all other districting criteria."
A different three-judge panel later reached a similar conclusion on another part of North Carolina's redistricting process: changes to state House and Senate districts.
Attorneys for North Carolina point out the U.S. Justice Department initially cleared the maps, and the state Supreme Court upheld them. They argue the changes were more about politics than race. Courts have previously ruled it's OK for lawmakers to use redistricting to win their party more seats – they just can't focus too heavily on race.