WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Jan. 6, a three-judge panel struck down the current configuration of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District after finding that it is a racial gerrymander in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The panel further concluded that the district was created with racially discriminatory intent in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Today’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed in October 2021 on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a voter who originally challenged the state’s past congressional and legislative maps for being malapportioned after the release of 2020 census data. After the South Carolina Legislature enacted new legislative and congressional districts, the plaintiffs then argued that the congressional map was racially gerrymandered and drawn with discriminatory intent against Black voters in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments.
In striking down the 1st Congressional District, the three-judge panel concluded that, after they weighed “the totality of evidence in the record and credibility of witnesses” presented throughout the case, they found “that race was the predominant motivating factor in the General Assembly’s design of Congressional District No. 1 and that traditional districting principles were subordinated to race,” thereby making the district a racial gerrymander. The court held that creating South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District would have been “effectively impossible without the gerrymandering of the African American population of Charleston County” and that the “movement of over 30,000 African Americans in a single county from Congressional District No. 1 to Congressional District No. 6 created a stark racial gerrymander of Charleston County.” The panel wrote that without “a permanent injunction in this case, Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm that cannot be remedied at law.” The court stated that the “South Carolina General Assembly may present the Court with a remedial map for consideration on or before March 31, 2023.”
While the panel struck down South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, it declined to strike down the 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts also challenged in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that the plaintiffs “failed to carry their burden to prove that race was the predominant factor” in the creation of these districts. With this order, South Carolina joins a group of states where redistricting will continue in 2023.