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Bartlett v. Strickland (Amicus Counsel)

The United States Supreme Court will decide this term a voting rights case that could have a significant impact on state redistricting plans following the 2010 census.

The case concerns a 2003 redistricting plan in North Carolina, under which the General Assembly split the state’s 18th District between portions of two counties in order to create one district with a 39% African-American voting-age population. Since taking effect, voters have elected Rep. Thomas Wright, the African American candidate of choice, to the district in the past two elections.

The Pender County Board of Commissioners sued the state in May 2004, contending that the districting map violated the state Constitution’s “whole county” provision by slicing one county into two districts. State officials defended the move, arguing that the district had to divide the county in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which protects racial and ethnic minorities when districts lines are drawn. A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Superior Court agreed.

In August 2007, the state Supreme Court reversed the lower court, ruling 4-2 that because the district does not have a majority African-American population, it did not fall under the mandate of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects racial and ethnic minorities when districts lines are drawn. It ordered the map redrawn following the 2008 elections.

In March 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a racial minority group must constitute a numerical majority in a proposed district before seeking to invoke the protections of Section 2 of the VRA. The Supreme Court decision, if left unchecked, will make redistricting in 2011 and the cause of making districts reflect emerging Latino electoral strength much harder. MALDEF had filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief in support of the petitioner.