Hunt v. Cromartie

LOCATION:North Carolina General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 98-85
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 526 US 541 (1999)
ARGUED: Jan 20, 1999
DECIDED: May 17, 1999

James A. Feldman – Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the appellants
Robinson O. Everett – Argued the cause for the appellees
Walter E. Dellinger, III – Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shaw v. Hunt (517 US 899), declaring North Carolina’s 12th district to have been unconstitutionally drawn, the state made a new districting plan in 1997. Acting on behalf of other residents, Martin Cromartie again challenged the new make-up of the 12th district as the product of racial gerrymandering. However, even before an evidentiary hearing, a three-judge District Court granted Cromartie summary judgment. Hunt appealed and the Supreme Court granted him certiorari.


Is the presence of “uncontroverted material facts,” concerning the practice of racial gerrymandering, sufficient to sustain a summary judgment even prior to conducting an evidentiary hearing or discovery?

Media for Hunt v. Cromartie

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 20, 1999 in Hunt v. Cromartie

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 17, 1999 in Hunt v. Cromartie

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

First case I have to announce is Hunt versus Cromartie, number 98-85.

This case comes to us on appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

In Shaw versus Hunt, we held that the North Carolina’s District 12, was a product of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

In response to our decision, the State enacted a new districting plan.

Appellees, however believed that the (Inaudible) also was unconstitutionally informed and brought suit against several state officials seeking to enjoin elections from being held pursuant to this new plan.

Before discovery and without an evidentiary hearing, the District Court granted summary judgment in appellee’s favor and entered in an injunction.

In the District Court’s view, the uncontroverted material facts showed that the State used racial criteria in drawing District 12.

In our opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse.

Districting legislation ordinarily, is race neutral on its face.

It classifies tracts of land, precincts or census blocks.

The task of assessing a jurisdiction’s motive therefore is an inherently complex endeavor.

One requiring careful inquiry into such circumstantial and direct evidence as may be available.

Appellees presented evidence showing District 12, size, shape and alleged lack of continuity.

They also presented statistical and demographic evidence reporting to show that at several points along District 12’s boundary, heavily black districts were included within District 12, while precincts that were equally democratic in terms of voter registration were excluded.

On the whole and viewed in light of our prior cases appellee’s evidence tends to support an inference that the State drew its district lines with an impressible racial motivation.

But summary judgment is appropriate only where there is no genuine issue of material fact.

The State’s motivation is a factual question and was sufficiently put in dispute by appellants.

Appellants argue that the State’s districting plan was drawn with the intent to make District 12, a strong democratic district.

They supported their contention with affidavits from two state legislatives.

More important they offered affidavit testimony from an expert witness, who analyze voting results in addition to party registration figures and who examined District 12’s entire border as oppose to select points along that border.

In the expert’s view the underlying data supported a political motivation at least as well as and somewhat better than a racial explanation.

Accepting appellants political motivation explanation as true as is required at the summary judgment stage, the fact of the legislature’s motivation was in dispute and appellees were not entitled to judgment as matter of law.

A jurisdiction may engage in constitutional political gerrymandering, even if it so happens that the most loyal democrats are black democrats, and even if the State’s legislature was conscious of that fact.

We do not hold that summary judgment may be never be held in the plaintiff’s favor in a racial gerrymandering case like this one, sought to be proved exclusively by circumstantial evidence.

We can’t imagine an instance where the reasonable inference is to be drawn in the non moving party’s favor would not be significantly probative so as to create a genuine issue of material fact.

But appellant’s evidence is not of that character.

We also do not express position on the merits.

The District Court is more familiar with the evidence than we are, and it may turn out, that the appellees prove their claim to the state acted with an impermissible motivation.

Summary judgment however is inappropriate when the evidence is susceptible of different interpretations or inferences by the prior fact.

Clarence Thomas:

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment which Justices Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer have joined.