Six black voters from Florence, Sumter, Georgetown, Berkeley, Darlington and Charleston counties sued Gov. Nikki Haley, the Legislature and other state officials this year, calling the changes “voting apartheid.” They claimed the GOP-dominated Legislature drew lines that segregate white and black voters and pack black voters into one congressional district.
The suit implored the court to throw out the plan, make lawmakers draw a new one and bar any elections based on them. The Justice Department had already said it would not challenge the new plan.
In March, three federal judges in South Carolina upheld the new lines for the U.S. House districts – including the new 7th Congressional District along the coast – and the state House seats, saying the plaintiffs had provided no convincing evidence that legislators drew the lines to dilute blacks’ voting power.
That ruling was appealed by Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia attorney who heads the state Democratic Party.
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.
Last month, Harpootlian said he was encouraged by a ruling from the U.S. District Court in Washington, which found that district maps drawn and approved by Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
On Monday, Harpootlian said he had his eyes on another case the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up that would deal with a larger issue: the constitutionality of the portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires South Carolina and other states to seek approval for voting law changes.
“We’re patient,” he said. “I have a hard time believing the Supreme Court is going to say you can use the Voting Rights Act to destroy the so-called coalition districts. I think that’s going to be dealt with in some context.”
South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said in a prepared statement that the district lines have been upheld at every turn. He dismissed the lawsuit as “a frivolous, poorly guided, last-ditch effort of political motive.”