Professors Michael Curtis and Eugene Mazo urge U.S. Supreme Court to hear North Carolina redistricting case

On a day that North Carolina was blanketed with snow, Professors Michael Kent Curtis and Eugene Mazo were busy urging the United States Supreme Court to hear an important redistricting case.

Curtis and Mazo joined a group of prominent election law scholars to sign an amicus curiae brief that was filed in the high court in the case of Dickson v. Rucho, No. 14-829. Thirteen leading election law scholars from around the country participated in this effort. Wake Forest is the only law school that had two members of its faculty represented.

Curtis and Mazo’s amicus curiae or friend of the court brief, filed on Feb. 17, 2015, argues that North Carolina’s redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. During a trial in the summer of 2013, several statewide non-partisan groups sought to overturn the racially-packed voting districts that had been created by North Carolina’s Legislature in 2011. In the contested cases of Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. North Carolina, the plaintiffs argued that the Legislature’s redistricting maps amounted to racial gerrymanders that unfairly divided the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In so doing, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited. The plaintiffs also argued that the plans violated the North Carolina Constitution’s requirement that districts be geographically compact. In July 2013, a three-judge state superior court panel unanimously rejected the challenges brought to the 2011 redistricting plans for the North Carolina House of Representatives, the North Carolina Senate and the United States House of Representatives. The case then headed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which affirmed.

Backing the proposition that the U.S. Supreme Court should grant a writ of certiorari and hear this case, Curtis, Mazo and the other election law scholars who participated as amici on this brief before the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the North Carolina Supreme Court set a dangerous precedent by rejecting strict scrutiny as the standard of review for cases which involve voting distinctions between citizens made solely on the basis of race. They also argued that the North Carolina Supreme Court misapplied the three-pronged standard set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), to find that there was a compelling government interest in creating districts based solely of race where none existed.

Redistricting cases have become prominent lately in the American political landscape, and many are currently making their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A case with similar facts, Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, 13-1138, is before the Court this term. In addition, Arizona State Legislature v. Alabama Independent Redistricting Commission, 13-1214, is also scheduled to be heard this year, though it case does not involve racial redistricting. Professors Curtis and Mazo have been writing about these issues for the media as well.