The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina illegally gerrymandered two congressional districts along racial lines.
The 5-3 ruling affirmed the decision of a lower court, which in 2016 ruled that North Carolina officials packed additional black voters into districts already heavily represented by African Americans.
Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joined ranks with the liberal justices to provide the deciding vote in the case.
Thomas, one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative judges, has said for decades that he believes congressional districting based along racial lines is unconstitutional, no matter which side of the political aisle benefits.
Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy dissented.
Justice Neil Gorsuch abstained from issuing a vote in the case.
The Supreme Court found that North Carolina’s 1st and 12th districts were packed with African Americans to provide a political advantage to Republicans.
Justice Elana Kagan said it was clear that race played a critical role in how North Carolina’s districts were drawn.
The “state’s mapmakers … purposely established a racial target,” Kagan wrote in the court’s ruling decision.
“A state may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines unless it has a compelling reason.” she wrote, citing the Constitution, which she says forbids a state “from separating its citizens into different voting districts on the basis of race.”
North Carolina, in its defense, said they were trying to preserve the black majority in the districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects racial minorities.
In his partial dissent, Alito wrote that the court should have relied on the precedent set by a 2001 Supreme Court decision that rejected what he considered a “remarkably similar challenge” to North Carolina’s District 12.
“A precedent of this Court should not be treated like a disposable household item—say, a paper plate or napkin— to be used once and then tossed in the trash,” Alito wrote.
“But that is what the Court does today in its decision regarding North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District: The Court junks a rule adopted in a prior, remarkably similar challenge to this very same congressional district.”
The ruling will not have an effect on North Carolina’s current districting. The state was required to redraw its district lines in 2016 after a federal court overturned its gerrymandered state lines.
Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 seats with the redrawn lines in the 2016 elections.
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