Earlier this year in the Texas Redistricting Case, the Supreme Court rejected an election map drawn up by a district court that favored Democratic candidates. Today's post features a circuit split over the related issue of gerrymandering. The term "gerrymandering" generally refers to a political maneuver whereby the party in power redraws their state's electoral districts in a way that benefits their party or disadvantages their political adversaries. One form of gerrymandering involves the drawing of electoral districts so as to dilute a particular racial group's voting power.
Enter Backus v. South Carolina, which, last week, identified a circuit conflict over the question of whether the Fifteenth Amendment's guarantee that "[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race" supports a claim for vote dilution. Case No.: 3:11-cv-03120-HFF-MBS-PMD (Dist. S.C. Mar. 9, 2012). Here's what the court had to say:
Plaintiffs assert a vote dilution claim and a racial gerrymandering claim under the Fifteenth Amendment. It is unclear whether vote dilution claims are cognizable under the Fifteenth Amendment. In recent decisions, the Supreme Court has emphasized that it has never recognized such a claim. See, e.g., Reno II, 528 U.S. at 334 n.3 (majority opinion) ("[W]e have never held that vote dilution violates the Fifteenth Amendment."); Voinovich v. Quilter, 507 U.S. 146, 159, 113 S. Ct. 1149, 122 L. Ed. 2d 500 (1993) ("This Court has not decided whether the Fifteenth Amendment applies to vote-dilution claims; in fact, we never have held any legislative apportionment inconsistent with the Fifteenth Amendment."). In light of these decisions, circuits are split on whether vote-dilution claims are cognizable under the Fifteenth Amendment. Compare Prejean v. Foster, 227 F.3d 504, 519 (5th Cir. 2000) ("Indeed, the Supreme Court has rejected application of the Fifteenth Amendment to vote dilution causes of action."), with Page v. Bartels, 248 F.3d 175, 193 n.12 (3d Cir. 2001) ("We simply cannot conclude that the Court's silence and reservation of these issues clearly foreclose Plaintiffs' Fifteenth Amendment claim . . . .").
Even if vote-dilution claims exist under the Fifteenth Amendment, the Fourth Circuit has recognized that they are essentially congruent with vote-dilution claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. Washington, 664 F.2d at 919. Both require proof of discriminatory purpose and discriminatory, or dilutive, effect. Id. For the same reasons that Plaintiffs have failed to prove a Fourteenth Amendment vote-dilution claim, they have failed to prove a Fifteenth Amendment vote-dilution claim.
(alterations and ellipsis in original). The following image reflects the proposed Congressional map as passed by the South Carolina House of Representatives on June 15, 2011:
[*Image courtesy of the South Carolina Legislature: http://www.scstatehouse.gov.]
[**For more on the battle over redistricting in South Carolina, check out Ballotpedia's wiki page here.]