COLUMBIA — The U.S. Justice Department has notified legislators that it won’t oppose South Carolina’s plans for redrawing U.S. House district lines and adding a seventh district along the coast.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said Monday he plans to file a lawsuit within two weeks challenging the new district lines, saying the Justice Department is using an “antiquated standard” on race that improperly concentrates black voters to ensure black candidates have a chance at winning seats.
“The view in Washington and the Justice Department is the South has not progressed in race relations in the last 40 years,” Harpootlian said. “They’ve got a bunch of 1960s liberals still working in the Justice Department.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Perez told Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell in a letter Friday that the U.S. Attorney won’t object to their redistricting plans.
“The attorney general does not interpose any objection to the specified change,” Perez wrote.
That means plans drawn by Republicans, who dominate the South Carolina Legislature, have cleared a major hurdle after a major disagreement this summer.
The proposed maps for South Carolina and other Southern states require federal approval under the Voting Rights Act because of a history of inequitable treatment of black voters.
The Justice Department on Oct. 11 approved new district maps for the state House. It is still considering plans for the state Senate. Harpootlian said he already is preparing his legal challenge for the U.S. House and state House districts.
Harrell said the approval of the state House and U.S. House plans “speaks volumes about how well thought out and fair this process was.”
It wasn’t without hitches.
Legislators needed a one-day special session in July to approve the final plan after Republican Sen. Larry Grooms of Bonneau and other upstart Republicans joined Senate Democrats to sidetrack the plan GOP leaders wanted. Grooms wanted the new district set along the state’s southern coast and the counties of Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Dorchester and Hampton and parts of Williamsburg and Georgetown.
In the end, GOP leaders won the plan they wanted and put the new district in the state’s northeastern corner, anchored with fast-growing Horry County around Myrtle Beach. The district stretches along the state line with North Carolina, down the coast from Myrtle Beach above Charleston and into an agriculture and manufacturing center of the state.
State GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said South Carolina Republicans “are pleased with this decision and look forward to winning this seat in 2012.”