Supreme Court sends back racial gerrymandering case in Arkansas

 June 5, 2024

The Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider its ruling in a dispute over alleged racial gerrymandering in Arkansas, in a potential setback for liberal groups challenging the state's Republican-drawn districts.

A three-judge appeals court had upheld Arkansas' congressional map in May 2023, finding no "plausible" evidence that race motivated the map's creation.

The situation has generated mountains of controversy.

The Supreme Court wiped that finding and told the court to consider the issue further in light of the Court's ruling in a similar controversy in South Carolina, in which the court sided with the state's Republican legislature.

Supreme Court map ruling

It's the latest battle over race and redistricting ahead of the 2024 elections, with Republicans defending a razor-thin House majority.

The plaintiffs in Arkansas claimed that black voters were divided between two different districts in an attempt to dilute their voting power.

Arkansas' Republican attorney general Tim Griffin hailed the Supreme Court's ruling, predicting it would allow the state's map to stand.

“That decision won’t change the result here; plaintiffs’ claims still fail as a matter of law and will be thrown out yet again,” Griffin said.

Many redistricting disputes hinge on Voting Rights Act claims of "vote dilution." The Supreme Court, in a separate dispute in South Carolina last month, urged caution when weighing racial gerrymandering accusations.

Court raises bar for race claims

The Supreme Court found no concrete evidence of racial motive in South Carolina's map and warned against using racial gerrymandering claims as a pretext to challenge political gerrymanders.

While racial gerrymandering is illegal under federal law, the Supreme Court has ruled that the courts should not decide partisan gerrymandering cases.

"A party challenging a map's constitutionality must disentangle race and politics if it wishes to prove that the legislature was motivated by race as opposed to partisanship. Second, in assessing a legislature's work, we start with a presumption that the legislature acted in good faith," Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

Biden blasted the court's ruling as part of a "dangerous" attack on voting rights, echoing warnings from the court's liberal wing.

“This decision threatens South Carolinians’ ability to have their voices heard at the ballot box, and the districting plan the Court upheld is part of a dangerous pattern of racial gerrymandering efforts from Republican elected officials to dilute the will of Black voters,” Biden said in a statement.

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