South Carolina Lawmakers Pushing to Remove Judge from Redistricting Case
COLUMBIA, S.C. — When a process occurs once every 10 years, perceptions of old wounds can lead to very long memories.
A case in point is playing out in South Carolina, where Republicans in the state legislature are seeking to remove one of the federal judges named to a panel hearing a pending redistricting case.
In a lawsuit filed in October, the NAACP and ACLU claimed the South Carolina Legislature unlawfully delayed drawing new electoral maps that respect the constitutional principle of one-person-one vote.
In a second filing in December, the plaintiffs specifically object to the passage of state House Bill 4493, which they claim adopted a racially gerrymandered state House map that intentionally marginalized the vote in Black communities.
South Carolina House lawmakers’ responded by saying their congressional map doesn’t significantly redraw the boundaries of the state’s existing districts and resembles a proposal put forth by a Senate committee in November.
For instance, U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s district still includes North Charleston, separating it from the rest of Charleston County, which is in Republican Rep. Nancy Mace’s district.
Initial analysis of the map shows the state would likely continue to elect six Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House with those districts.
The newly minted map for the state House districts is more problematic. An analysis of it by Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project determined they would likely see 83 Republicans elected, two more than the GOP’s current advantage among the 124 seats.
It would also pit five sets of incumbents against each other: three Democratic pairs and two Republican, if the incumbents choose to run again in 2022.
The latest wrinkle in the case came last Thursday when state Republican leaders asked that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel be removed from the three-judge panel hearing the case based on comments he made 10 years ago, during the last redistricting effort.
Long before Gergel became a federal judge, he was lead counsel in a redistricting case filed in the wake of the 2000 Census.
Back then, the Republican lawmakers claim, Gergel’s “singular focus” was on overturning “plans passed by the Republican-controlled legislature” relying on positions “similar to those advanced by the [current] plaintiffs.”
According to state House Speaker Jay Lucas, Gergel’s past work suggests he may not be able to give impartial consideration to facts of the case.
To bolster their position, the Republicans also note that Gergel disqualified himself from hearing a redistricting case that arose after the 2010 Census.
At that time Gergel conceded that because he had previously deposed or cross-examined many of the likely witnesses, “an appearance of partiality” would hover over the case.
A spokeswoman for the South Carolina Republican Party told The Well News Monday that the state party is not involved in the lawsuit.
The 2020 Census saw more than 500,000 people added to South Carolina. But that growth was uneven, as people flocked to coastal areas, and rural areas saw populations drop, so lawmakers now have to retool district boundaries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.