Hunt v. Cromartie

LOCATION: Medical University of South Carolina

DOCKET NO.: 99-1864
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 532 US 234 (2001)
ARGUED: Nov 27, 2000
DECIDED: Apr 18, 2001

Adam Stein - Argued the cause for the appellants in No. 99-1865
Robinson O. Everett - Argued the cause for the appellees
Walter E. Dellinger, III - Argued the cause for the appellants in No. 99-1864

Facts of the case

In Shaw v. Hunt, the U.S Supreme Court found that North Carolina's legislature violated the Constitution by using race as the predominant factor in drawing its Twelfth Congressional District's 1992 boundaries. In 1997, after the State redrew those boundaries, the District Court found that the new boundaries had also been created with dominating racial considerations. In reversing, the Court found, in Hunt v. Cromartie, that the evidence was insufficient to show an unconstitutional race-based objective. On remand, the District Court again found that North Carolina's legislature had used race driven criteria in drawing the 1997 boundaries based on the district's shape, its splitting of towns and counties, and its heavily African-American voting population. The court newly found that the legislature had drawn the boundaries to collect precincts with a high racial, rather than political, identification. (Argued and decided with 99-1865, Smallwood v. Cromartie.)


Did a district court err in finding that North Carolina violated the Equal Protection Clause in its 1997 redrawing of its Twelfth Congressional District's 1992 boundaries?

Media for Hunt v. Cromartie

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 27, 2000 in Hunt v. Cromartie

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 18, 2001 in Hunt v. Cromartie

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 99-1864, Hunt against Cromartie and a companion case will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

This is the fourth time that this Court has considered an equal protection challenge to North Carolina's heavily minority, Twelfth Congressional District.

The legislature initially drew that District’s boundaries in 1992, creating a long narrow ugly shaped district with a majority of African-American voters.

A group of voters brought a case in Federal Court challenging the District’s constitutionality on the ground that the legislature had drawn its boundaries primarily on the basis of race.

In 1993, this Court held that the voters could proceed with their constitutional challenge.

In 1996, the court held for the voters on the merits, the evidence showed that the District’s boundaries violated the Equal Protection Clause because when the legislature drew those boundaries, considerations of race, for example, a desire to create an African-American majority, were predominant.

In 1999, we considered a new, but similar challenge to a new District 12’s boundaries which the legislature had modified in 1997 in light of our earlier opinions.

The District Court had decided through summary judgment procedures before trial that the boundaries still violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The legislature had not changed them enough.

We objected to the manner in which the District Court reached this conclusion.

There were important factual disagreements.

Summary judgment was not appropriate and we remanded for further proceedings.

We now, consider the results of those further proceedings.

The District Court held a full trial.

It considered all the evidence and yet again decided in favor of those who were challenging the district.

It concluded that the legislature when redrawing the boundaries of what is not quite a majority-minority district had continued improperly to take race into account.

Now, after reviewing the Trial Court record we today find the Trial Court’s decision clearly erroneous.

The legislature’s redrawn District 12 boundaries, in our view, do not violate the Constitution.

In reaching this conclusion we apply standards drawn from this Court’s earlier cases on race based majority-minority legislative districting.

To win, those who challenge such a district, must show that the “legislature subordinated traditional race neutral districting principles to racial considerations”.

Race must not simply have been “a motivation for the drawing of a majority-minority district, but the predominating factor, motivating the legislature’s districting decisions”, and those who challenge have to show that a facially neutral law was “unexplainable on grounds other than race”.

Our cases make clear that the legislature “must have discretion to exercise the political judgment necessary to balance competing interest”, and courts must “exercise extraordinary caution in adjudicating claims that a State has drawn district lines on the basis of race.”

Applying these standards we consider the basic controverted District 12 question.

Does race rather than politics predominantly explain that District’s 1997 boundaries?

The District Court thought that the answer to this question was ‘yes’.

In large part because it found what it believed was not it normally.

It believed that the legislature had left some more heavily Democratic nearby precincts outside the district while at the same time it had included other less heavily Democratic precincts inside the district.

Why, the court asked.

If the legislature was simply trying to create a safe seat for Democrats, would they have included less safe Democratic precincts, while excluding more safe Democratic precincts?

The answer must be that it was doing more than simply try to include Democrats and that more sought the District Court involved a predominant motive to include African-Americans, however they might tend to vote.