South Carolina to hold 2024 congressional elections using unlawful map

Columbia, SC— A federal court ruled on Thursday that this year's South Carolina congressional elections will be held under a map it had already deemed unconstitutional and discriminatory against Black voters, with time running out before voting deadlines and the Supreme Court still undecided

A panel of three South Carolina federal judges ordered that “with the primary election procedures rapidly approaching, the appeal before the Supreme Court still pending, and no remedial plan in place, the ideal must bend to the practical.” South Carolina primary elections are June 11, with early voting starting May 28. Before the April 27 deadline for foreign absentee voting, the judges wrote that changing the maps is “plainly impractical”.

South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, held by Republican Nancy Mace, is at stake. Last year, the same three-judge panel ordered South Carolina to redraw the district, which stretches from Charleston to Hilton Head Island, after determining that the state violated the 14th Amendment's equal protection guarantee by using race as a proxy for partisan affiliation.

Mace defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham, who had won a South Carolina House seat two years earlier, by 1%, under 5,400 votes, in 2020. After 2020 census redistricting, Mace won reelection by 14% in 2022.

Following South Carolina's Republican-led Legislature's redistricting, civil rights groups sued, accusing lawmakers of choosing “perhaps the worst option of the available maps” for Black voters, removing them and making the seat safer for Republicans.

The same three-judge panel that delivered Thursday's ruling found that South Carolina's Legislature “exiled” 30,000 Democratic-leaning Black voters from the 1st District to protect Mace last year. The state appealed that finding, and the Supreme Court heard arguments in October but has not ruled. To prepare for the elections, the state and civil rights groups opposing the district demanded a high court verdict by January 1.

Justices appeared likely to uphold the district and reject the lower court's verdict at arguments last year. The state claimed that political politics, not race, and coastal population growth explain the congressional pattern. ACLU, part of the coalition that brought the case for NAACP and voter Taiwan Scott, condemned the ruling Thursday.

“South Carolina’s failure to rectify its racially gerrymandered congressional map blatantly disregards our brave clients’ voices and the rights of Black voters,” said ACLU Voting Rights Project deputy director Adriel I. Cepeda Derieux. By doing nothing, the legislature has damaged democracy and entrenched voting suppression in the state. Rest assured, we will fight.”

The defendant South Carolina leaders' attorneys did not respond to requests for comment. It varies from Alabama, where the Supreme Court found last year that Republican lawmakers reduced Black voters' political power under the Voting Rights Act by establishing only one majority Black district. Justices' judgment created a second district with a large Democratic-leaning Black voter base.

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