Corrected 4:48 p.m. | A panel of three federal judges in South Carolina ruled Friday the state’s 1st District was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and ordered state lawmakers to redraw the congressional map before any more elections can be held.
The decision gave lawmakers until March to draw new lines for the district, which runs along the state’s southern coast and is currently represented by Republican Nancy Mace. The ruling is the latest in suits over this decade’s congressional redistricting based on the 2020 census results, including in states such as Florida and Texas.
An individual voter and the state’s NAACP filed the lawsuit in 2021, arguing that state legislators manipulated the congressional map to minimize the voting power of Black voters.
Following an October bench trial before Judges Mary Lewis and Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina and Judge Toby Heytens of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, the three judges agreed that the 1st District violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
“The Court finds that race was the predominant factor motivating the General Assembly’s adoption of Congressional District No. 1,” the ruling said.
The three judges wrote that legislators deliberately moved 30,000 Black residents from Charleston County out of the district to keep its population about 17 percent Black. That “target” meant the district would keep a “desired partisan tilt” in Republicans’ favor, the judges wrote.
Mace first won election to the seat in 2020 before the state legislature redrew its maps.
The court found that the designated mapmaker of South Carolina lawmakers sought to maximize Republican seats in the state. The state is currently represented by six Republicans and one Democrat, James Clyburn.
The judges found that the designated mapmaker “abandoned” his mapmaking principles to change the map for the 1st District and created a “stark racial gerrymander” in Charleston County. The Charleston County voters were placed in Clyburn’s 6th District.
Last year, with the new map, Mace won a primary against Donald Trump-backed candidate Katie Arrington by 8 percentage points and then defeated Democratic challenger Annie Andrews by 14 percentage points.
The challengers initially pushed for a broader ruling that tossed the 2nd and 5th Districts as well. But the judges wrote that there was not enough evidence to show that race was the “predominant” factor in drawing the two districts.
The three-judge decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has already heard arguments this term in two cases concerning redistricting in the 2020 election cycle. There is ongoing litigation in state and federal courts in nine states.
At least one state, North Carolina, will likely redraw its congressional map before the 2024 election, which could spawn more litigation.
This report was corrected to reflect South Carolina’s seven congressional districts.