Civil rights

Civil rights groups prepare legal action over new congressional map

The SC Senate on Thursday approved a new map for congressional districts that some advocacy groups and political leaders are calling “blatant gerrymandering,” leading many to predict federal legal challenges when the districts become law.

Over the past several months, General Assembly leaders have reshaped the SC House, Senate, and congressional districts by drawing new lines to account for population changes in the 2020 census. This redistribution of district lines is required by the US Constitution every 10 years after the census. How the lines are drawn has a huge impact on how the state is represented in Congress. On Thursday, senators approved a plan that would heavily favor Republicans in six of seven congressional districts, despite a Democratic proposal to have four GOP-leaning districts, one Democratic-leaning district and two competitive seats.

“It’s a method of election that’s nothing new,” former congressman and current SC gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham said at a Jan. 17 press conference. “It’s called gerrymandering. Incumbents can draw their own constituency lines to their own advantage, which virtually prevents them from losing their elections and guarantees one-party rule.

Senate Republicans point to similarities between the new map and current district lines as a strength of the proposal. SC Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said Thursday that the proposal with the least change adheres to traditional redistricting principles by maintaining constituent consistency and preserving core congressional districts.

Charleston, which is currently in the 1st congressional district, has become more competitive in recent years, having elected Cunningham, a Democrat, in 2018, and Nancy Mace, a Republican, in 2020. But with the new map, Charleston would removed from the 1st District and placed in the 6th District, a majority-minority district currently held by U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn. The change would make the 1st District more favorable to Mace and the GOP.

According to a report by Associated press.

South Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had previously sued the state in December, citing the state’s “delayed redistricting process, which largely avoided public participation and left completely disproportionate electoral districts within months only before the election season” in a Tweeter published on December 24.

Now that the Congressional map has been approved by the Senate, it’s one step closer to legal action.

“The ACLU and the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] are already before the courts for a redistricting on issues of transparency and [S.C.]Home card, which is terrible,” said Lynn Teague, vice president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. “All they have to do is add the congressional card to the lawsuit once it’s decided.”

Teague said the League has historically fought alongside other civil rights groups, but she said taking time off from court battles frees up the organization for other types of activism.

“It’s a division of labor,” she says. “We work very hard on the lobbying side, making sure the legislative record shows everything it needs to show to illustrate the issues – gerrymandering – we work on education and public information, because once that you are in court, it limits what you can and cannot say or do.

Representatives for the ACLU did not respond to requests for comment.

According to a Report on the redistricting process, the new map leaves the state without competitive districts, a slight change from the previous iteration, which featured a slightly competitive district.

Cunningham warned at the press conference that the change would make it easier and more likely for incumbent politicians to lean more into their political base and move away from reasonable leadership.

“Without competitive constituencies, politicians have no incentive to appeal to voters outside their base,” he said. “They become more partisan and more extreme, and Congress becomes even more dysfunctional. That’s why we want to keep Charleston together… We’re not asking you to draw a Democratic district. We are here to ask you to draw a righteous neighborhood.

The Senate made minimal changes to the Congressional map proposed by the House, so the proposal now returns to the House for final approval, but there may be another step in the process.

“I think the lines of Congress approved by the House and those approved by the Senate will most likely have to go to the conference committee,” said SC House Pro Tempore Chairman Tommy Pope, R-York.

The committee would then define the differences between the two maps and send it back to both houses for final approval before sending it to the governor for signature.