Court Says Congressional Race Can Be Held With Unlawful Map

March 29, 2024 by Dan McCue
Court Says Congressional Race Can Be Held With Unlawful Map
Representative Nancy Mace, R-S.C. A federal court has ruled her reelection bid will take place using a map already declared unconstitutional. (Photo by Dan McCue)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A three-judge panel in South Carolina ruled that this year’s congressional races in the state can be carried out using a map they have already held is unconstitutional.

In what surely must be an exceptional ruling, the federal judges — Mary Geiger Lewis, Toby Heytens and Richard Gergel — said their hands were tied by the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken too long to decide an appeal of their original decision.

“Having found that Congressional District No. 1 constitutes an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, the court fully recognizes that ‘it would be the unusual case in which a court would be justified in not taking appropriate action to insure that no further elections are conducted under an invalid plan,’” they wrote in a ruling handed down on Thursday.

“But 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,” they said.

“The court hereby exercises its authority under Rule 62(d) to modify its injunction to preserve the status quo on appeal,” they continued. “The last paragraph of the court’s order of Jan. 6, 2023, at page 30 is modified to now read ‘Consequently, the court hereby enjoins the conducting of an election under Congressional District No. 1 after the 2024 election cycle until a constitutionally valid apportionment plan is approved by this court.’” 

Last year, Lewis, Heytens and Gergel found the state’s congressional map likely was unconstitutional because it racially gerrymandered Black voters out of the 1st District, which is currently represented by Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.

In their ruling, they said the state lawmakers charged with drawing new district lines after the latest census likely discriminated against Black voters by moving 30,000 of them out of Mace’s district and into the district represented by Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.

The lawmakers argued race had nothing to do with their line-drawing decisions and that they drew the map the way they did due to partisan considerations.

The lawmakers immediately appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the fall. At the time, both sides asked the justices for a quick decision, so that a new map could be implemented before this year’s elections.

However, that failed to happen. As a result, earlier this month, the lawmakers went back to the original three-judge panel and asked to use the existing map one last time, arguing there is now too little time left to make changes before the congressional primary election in June.

In addition, they told the court, by law absentee ballots need to be sent to military and overseas voters by April 27.

Attorneys for the state lawmakers filed a similar request with the Supreme Court. 

While it’s unclear what effect the lower court ruling might have on the justices, Thursday’s ruling in South Carolina means the election will go on as scheduled, using the current district lines.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the case some time before the end of June. In their latest ruling, the federal judges in South Carolina have set a deadline for the lawmakers to submit a remedial plan 30 days after the Supreme Court’s final decision. 

That, they said, should provide plenty of time for a new map to be drawn and adopted in time for the 2026 congressional elections.

Currently, five candidates have filed to run in the party primaries for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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  • 2024 Elections
  • gerrymandering
  • Nancy Mace
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