Clarence Thomas Wants Supreme Court to Stop Deciding Certain Cases

clarence thomas wants supreme court to stop deciding certain cases

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021, in Washington, DC. In a new opinion, Thomas said he doesn't feel federal courts should decide on cases that address gerrymandering.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas implied in a concurring opinion on Thursday that the court should stop intervening in states' redistricting processes.

Thomas' opinion is affiliated with the ruling in Alexander vs. South Carolina Conference of the NAACP. The court voted 6-3, with all conservative justices siding to overturn a lower-court ruling and return the issue back to the state of South Carolina.

The longest-serving justice wrote that courts should not decide racial gerrymandering and vote dilution claims.

"The Constitution contemplates no role for the federal courts in the districting process," Thomas wrote.

The Context

Following the 2020 Census, as part of a process known as redistricting that is conducted every 10 years, the South Carolina Senate was tasked to redraw its congressional district maps and create a new electoral map.

The focus was especially on state Districts 1 and 6, aiming to increase Republican representation. Will Roberts, a nonpartisan staffer experienced in drawing new districts, increased District 1's projected Republican vote share by 1.36 percent to 54.39 percent.

The plan also raised the Black voting-age population from 16.56 percent to 16.72 percent.

"Where race and politics are highly correlated, a map that has been gerrymandered to achieve a partisan end can look very similar to a racially gerrymandered map[...]Without an alternative map, the court also found it difficult for plaintiffs to defeat the starting presumption that the legislature acted in good faith," wrote Justice Samuel Alito in his opinion.

The court also cited "no direct evidence" that the South Carolina Legislature relied on race when drawing District 1, arguing that circumstantial evidence to support such a conclusion "falls far short of showing that race, not partisan preferences, drove the districting process."

"A colorblind Constitution does not require that racial considerations 'predominate' before subjecting them to scrutiny," Thomas wrote. "Nor does it tolerate groupwide judgments about the preferences and beliefs of racial minorities.

"It behooves us to abandon our misguided efforts and leave districting to politicians."

What We Know

That plan, which was signed into law by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, was challenged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) District 1 voter Taiwan Scott.

They received support from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit disputing the redrawn districts. It led to an eight-day trial in the fall of 2022 in which plaintiffs argued that the South Carolina Legislature intentionally moved tens of thousands of Black voters in and out of different congressional districts in the state to benefit their own conservative political aspirations.

A panel of judges unanimously ruled that "[s]tate legislators are free to consider a broad array of factors in the design of a legislative district, including partisanship, but they may not use race as a predominant factor and may not use partisanship as a proxy for race."

In January 2023, a three-judge panel unanimously ruled that District 1, which includes the majority of the coastline from Charleston to the Georgia border, is illegal, discriminatory and must be redrawn. The judges gave the state until March 31, 2023, to comply with the order.

The state ultimately appealed, leading to oral arguments before the Supreme Court on October 11, 2023. As the ruling was pending, the aforementioned three-judge panel allowed the gerrymandered districts to remain in place for 2024 elections.

"The three-judge district court paid only lip service to these propositions," Alito wrote. "That misguided approach infected the district court's findings of fact, which were clearly erroneous under the appropriate legal standard. We therefore reverse the trial court in part and remand for further proceedings."

In a blistering 34-page dissent, Justice Elena Kagan scrutinized the conservative justices.

"What a message to send to state legislators and mapmakers about racial gerrymandering," Kagan wrote. "For reasons I've addressed, those actors will often have an incentive to use race as a proxy to achieve partisan ends. And occasionally they might want to straight-up suppress the electoral influence of minority voters.

"Go right ahead, this court says to states today. Go ahead, though you have no recognized justification for using race, such as to comply with statutes ensuring equal voting rights. Go ahead, though you are (at best) using race as a shortcut to bring about partisan gains—to elect more Republicans in one case, more Democrats in another. It will be easy enough to cover your tracks in the end: just raise a 'possibility' of non-race-based decision-making, and it will be 'dispositive.'"

Views

In a statement to Newsweek, the NAACP described the court's ruling as a "severe blow" and "gut punch" to democracy and the American people.

"Despite the constant barrage of efforts to stifle access to the ballot, the NAACP and voting rights advocates across the nation refuse to be deterred," said Janette McCarthy Wallace, NAACP chief general counsel.

"While the court may have faltered in its duty to safeguard democracy, the collective power of the Black vote stands resolute—an unwavering force that transcends legal rulings and political maneuvering.

"The NAACP, in the face of this legal setback, stands in unwavering solidarity with its counterparts fighting legal battles for the protection and expansion of Black voting rights."

Jace Woodrum, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, told Newsweek in an emailed statement that it was "a dark day for democracy" in the state.

Leah Aden, senior counsel at the Legal Defense Fund who argued before the Supreme Court in this case, said in a statement provided to Newsweek that the decision "usurps the authority of trial courts to make factual findings of racial discrimination."

"The decision also defies decades of precedent that allows plaintiffs to use a wide variety of evidence to demonstrate racial discrimination in voting and forces plaintiffs to offer a particular form of proof that race more than party explains South Carolina's line-drawing," Aden said.

She added: "As Justice Kagan's dissent makes clear, today's decision can only be justified through 'reworking the law' and 'distance' from the factual record."

Update 05/23/24, 12:23 p.m. ET: This story was updated with more information and comments.

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