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Redistricting case has historic connection to South Carolina campaign

Democrat challenging Mace says his ancestor was gerrymandered out

Michael B. Moore, a Democratic candidate for Congress in South Carolina's 1st District, speaks at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Michael B. Moore, a Democratic candidate for Congress in South Carolina's 1st District, speaks at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In the 19th Century, Black Civil War hero Robert Smalls of South Carolina lost reelection to the House after the state legislature redrew his district to dilute the voting power of Black citizens.

Now, nearly 150 years later, his great-great-grandson, Michael B. Moore, is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. And like his ancestors, Moore’s chances may be shaped by redistricting. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a South Carolina case to determine whether state lawmakers engaged in illegal racial gerrymandering.

“He was gerrymandered out of a seat,” Moore said of his ancestor Smalls. “The world is very different and we’ve come light years from where we were at that point, but the same tool continues to rear its ugly head for the purpose of amassing or preserving political power. It’s ugly … and it goes against the principles of democracy.’’

A three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Columbia, S.C., ruled that the boundaries of the 1st Congressional District, drawn after the 2020 census, violated the constitutional prohibition on racially based gerrymandering. During Wednesday’s arguments, conservative justices expressed skepticism that race was the prime factor in drawing the district lines, and suggested politics, which the court has said is a permissible factor, was the impetus for the district map.

South Carolina state officials contend that the district was drawn with politics in mind, not race. But because Black voters tend to favor Democrats, the case tests how courts view gerrymandering challenges when racial identification and political affiliation are so closely entwined.

Mace flipped the coastal district, which includes Beaufort and Charleston, by beating Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham by 1.2 percentage points in 2020, before redistricting. Under the new lines, she beat a primary challenger backed by former President Donald Trump and was reelected in 2022 by nearly 14 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2024 race as likely Republican.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said she looks forward to the Supreme Court deciding a challenge to the boundaries of her district. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Moore, a business executive who holds a degree in political science from Syracuse University, said he is confident he will win, regardless of the court’s decision.

“We’re not counting on the Supreme Court, or on anything, frankly, to open the door for us,’’ Moore said. 

Mace said she looks forward to the court’s decision. “I just want to know who I’m going to represent,’’ she said.

Mace was one of eight House Republicans who voted last week to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. She said she was angered that McCarthy had not followed through on promises to bring up bipartisan legislation to address a nationwide backlog of untested rape kits. Her anti-McCarthy stance drew the ire of some colleagues. This week, she wore a scarlet “A,” on her clothing going into a GOP conference, and said it was a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel: “I’m wearing the scarlet letter after the week that I just had last week, being a woman up here and being demonized for my vote and for my voice,” Mace said.

After the GOP conference nominated Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., to be speaker, Mace said she would not support him because she was troubled by his admission that he had spoken at a gathering hosted by white supremacist leaders in 2002 when he was a state representative.

Moore described Mace as an “extremist” who is more interested in generating publicity for herself than serving her constituents. “She seems to be motivated very much by getting on TV,” he said. “She has ended up becoming one of the more extreme people in Congress.”

Avery Roe, Mary Ellen McIntire and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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