NORTH CAROLINA, ET AL.
SANDRA LITTLE COVINGTON, ET AL.
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE
DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina General Assembly redrew state legislative
districts in 2011 to account for population changes revealed
by the 2010 census. In May 2015, several registered North
Carolina voters (here called plaintiffs) brought this action
in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North
Carolina, alleging that 28 majority-black districts in the
new plan were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The
District Court ruled for the plaintiffs in August 2016,
holding that race was the predominant factor in the design of
each challenged district, and that in none was that use of
race "supported by a strong basis in evidence and
narrowly tailored to comply with [the Voting Rights
Act]." 316 F. R. D. 117, 176 (MDNC 2016).[*]The court declined
to require changes in time for the then-impending November
2016 election, but ordered the General Assembly to redraw the
map before North Carolina holds any future elections for that
body. See App. to Juris. Statement 148-149.
weeks after the November 2016 election, the District Court
ordered additional relief. In addition to setting a March
2017 deadline for the General Assembly's drawing of new
districts, the court ordered that "[t]he term of any
legislator elected in 2016" from a district later
modified by that remedial plan "shall be shortened to
one year" (rather than the regular two). Id.,
at 203. Those legislators would then be replaced by new ones,
to be chosen in court-ordered special elections in the fall
of 2017. The legislators elected in those special elections,
too, were then to "serve a one year term."
Id., at 204. Finally, in order to make this regime
workable, the court also suspended provisions of the North
Carolina Constitution requiring prospective legislators to
reside within a district for one year before they may be
elected to represent it. See id., at 203 (citing N.
C. Const., Art. II, §§6-7). To explain why these
measures were warranted, the court stated: "While
special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison
to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be
represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial
gerrymander." App. to Juris. Statement 200.
Carolina appealed the District Court's remedial order to
this Court, and we granted a stay pending appeal. See 580
U.S. __ (2017). The State now contends that "the
remedial order should be vacated for the simple reason that
the district court failed to meaningfully weigh any equitable
considerations." Juris. Statement 22. We share that
assessment and now vacate the order.
in redistricting cases is "'fashioned in the light
of well-known principles of equity.'" Reynolds
v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 585 (1964). A district court
therefore must undertake an "equitable weighing
process" to select a fitting remedy for the legal
violations it has identified, NAACP v. Hampton County
Election Comm'n, 470 U.S. 166, 183, n. 36 (1985),
taking account of '"what is necessary, what is fair,
and what is workable, '" New York v. Cathedral
Academy, 434 U.S. 125, 129 (1977). And in the context of
deciding whether to truncate existing legislators' terms
and order a special election, there is much for a court to
weigh. Although this Court has never addressed whether or
when a special election may be a proper remedy for a racial
gerrymander, obvious considerations include the severity and
nature of the particular constitutional violation, the extent
of the likely disruption to the ordinary processes of
governance if early elections are imposed, and the need to
act with proper judicial restraint when intruding on state
sovereignty. We do not suggest anything about the relative
weight of these factors (or others), but they are among the
matters a court would generally be expected to consider in
its "balancing of the individual and collective
interests" at stake. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Bd. of Ed., 402 U.S. 1, 16 (1971).
than undertaking such an analysis in this case, the District
Court addressed the balance of equities in only the most
cursory fashion. As noted above, the court simply announced
that "[w]hile special elections have costs, " those
unspecified costs "pale in comparison" to the
prospect that citizens will be "represented by
legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander."
App. to Juris. Statement 200. That minimal reasoning would
appear to justify a special election in every
racial-gerrymandering case-a result clearly at odds with our
demand for careful case-specific analysis. For that reason,
we cannot have confidence that the court adequately grappled
with the interests on both sides of the remedial question
before us. And because the District Court's discretion
"was barely exercised here, " its order provides no
meaningful basis for even deferential review. Winter v.
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 27
these reasons, we vacate the District Court's remedial
order and remand the case for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
is so ordered.
separate order, we have summarily affirmed the District
Court's ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs'
racial-gerrymandering claims. ...