COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Civil rights groups have added several congressional districts to a lawsuit over “racially gerrymandered” redistricting maps, accusing South Carolina Republican lawmakers in an amended lawsuit filed Thursday of unconstitutionally redrawing lines so as to disadvantage Black voters.
New maps for areas including the 1st, 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts are based on state bills that “represent the Legislature’s intent to use race to maintain political power by unnecessarily packing Black South Carolinians into certain districts and cracking Black voters in other districts,” according to the amended complaint from filed by the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
South Carolina’s 6th District is the state’s only majority-Black district, currently held by its sole congressional Democrat, U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. The new map, the lawsuit argues, would keep that situation the same, while “working adeptly to deny the ability of Black voters to elect or even influence elections in any of the other six congressional districts.”
The 1st District — which is seen by both major parties as a must-win, due its changing hands twice over the last two congressional cycles — has gained more than 150,000 residents over the past decade, according to the lawsuit.
As drawn, the new map “flies in the face of the geography of the state post-2020 which reflects the movement of Black people to the South Carolina coast,” the lawsuit alleges. “The Legislature chose perhaps the worst option of the available maps in terms of its harmful impact on Black voters that it proposed or were proposed by members of the public.”
In its initial lawsuit filed last year, the NAACP alleged that the state’s newly drawn state House maps discriminate against Black people by diluting their voting power. The complaint also accused lawmakers of taking too long to approve congressional maps, something they argued prevented potential candidates from doing adequate research on the districts or mull possible legal action ahead of a two-week filing period that opens March 16.
Gov. Henry McMaster, who was initially named as a defendant in the case, has signed the House and Senate bills.
Redistricting cases are considered by three-judge panels. For this case, that includes Michelle Childs, who is being considered by President Joe Biden for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. Another member is Richard Gergel, who denied a request by state lawmakers that he recuse himself due to previous legal work on behalf of clients who challenged previously drawn district lines.
Because the two-week filing window opens next month, “the Court must adjudicate and remedy those issues in time to avoid voter confusion and disenfranchisement in the upcoming election cycle, or delay election-related deadlines as necessary,” the lawsuit argued, asking the panel hold off elections until plans are adopted that are constitutionally acceptable.
Attorneys for leading Republican lawmakers have defended the maps’ constitutionality, arguing that they aren’t substantially different from earlier maps that met federal approval.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.