By Mary Magana-Ayala
COLUMBIA, S.C.– Two civil rights groups, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed a lawsuit against the state of South Carolina, arguing the state has unjustifiably delayed the drawing of new redistricting maps which embody the constitutional principle of one-person-one-vote.
“Every day without new maps is a day in which interested organizations, such as the South Carolina NAACP and its volunteers, as well as candidates, cannot contact and educate the electorate in their districts,” stated Brenda Murphy, who is the acting president of the plaintiff in the case, South Carolina NAACP.
Further addressing the importance of the issue, Brenda Murphy said, “Every day without new maps is another day when Black voters and other voters across the state cannot appeal to and hold accountable at the next election representatives who have many issues that they need to respond to facing our communities such as the impact of COVID, educational and policing reform, land ownership, and more.”
The case was processed on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP as well as individual voters, who are represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of South Carolina, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., Boroughs Bryant LLC, and Arnold & Porter.
According to the ACLU, the issue at stake is the state Legislature’s verdict to postpone redistricting without proposing, examining, and developing new maps that serve to replace South Carolina’s outdated and malapportioned districts at the congressional and state level.
In the U.S., redistricting only occurs once every decade, and the drawing of districts establishes the apportionment of political power and representation in each district at every level of government for the next 10 years.
“The Legislature essentially skipped town without fulfilling its critical obligation of drawing new and fair maps…The stakes are too high for lawmakers to be treating the public and the process with such little regard,” argued Sommil Trivedi, the ACLU attorney.
The ACLU argues that it has every reason to believe the Legislature will not examine or develop new redistricting maps until December or January, which they note, challenges the public and the court’s ability to determine the legal legitimacy of the maps prior to the March filing deadline for the upcoming 2022 primary elections.
Moreover, the legislative delay on redistricting also harms officials running for office, maintains the ACLU.
Candidates seeking to run for office have until March 30, 2022 to officially confirm they are running for state and federal offices. The ACLU asserts that candidates with intent to run and citizens who want to organize and participate in the political process by voting have a right to know where the new district lines will be drawn.
The lawsuit drafted by the ACLU and NAACP, highlights how the state congressional, House, and Senate districts have drastic population inequities because it reflects the 2010 population data.
Furthermore, the ACLU suggests that until the Legislature of South Carolina corrects the malapportionment in the districts across the state, voters are unable to determine which candidates they will support and cannot decide whether to run or endorse candidates to run.
The ACLU adds this delay mean voters are also unable to not only educate themselves but also others on the different candidates running and prepare to hold the candidates accountable in election time, and they are also unable to form connections with others within their districts to promote and advocate for candidates who reflect the same political ideas.
Expressing her concern, Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. insisted, “In every redistricting cycle for the last 50 years––since Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act –– voters and others have been compelled to go to court to fix the Legislature’s maps.
“The State’s refusal to tell the public when it will reconvene to take up its obligation to redraw the lines and make it difficult, if not impossible, to resolve any court challenge before the consequential 2022 primaries is unacceptable.”
According to the ACLU, South Carolina’s district maps have been contested every decade since 1970, and each decade it took a lot of time for the court to hear the cases. The ACLU argues that despite knowing this fact, the Legislature decided to adjourn.
Legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, Allen Chaney, said, “Because there aren’t fixed timelines for South Carolina’s redistricting process, there’s a real risk that important election deadlines will come and go before maps are drawn and tested against the equitable demands of our Constitution. This lawsuit will help ensure that South Carolinians have an opportunity to run, organize, and vote in state House and U.S. congressional elections with maps that meet conditional requirements.”
The plaintiff, Taiwan Scott, added, “Equal electoral access and representation is critical for Black South Carolinians and Gullah people in particular to make demands of and hold accountable the appropriate representative. The South Carolina Legislature must fairly apportion congressional and legislative districts so that we can make our voices heard and ensure elected officials are responsive to the needs of Black communities.”
The lawsuit, South Carolina Conference of the NAACP v. McMaster was registered in the U.S. District Court in Columbia, South Carolina.