Think tank says Alito misconstrued its research in SC gerrymander case

Think tank says Alito misconstrued its research in SC gerrymander case

The Brennan Center for Justice accused Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito of misconstruing its research in a South Carolina gerrymandering case.

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a Republican-drawn congressional district in South Carolina, reversing a lower court decision that said the district’s boundaries were an unconstitutional form of racial gerrymandering.

A three-judge panel found race was the predominant factor in why the new map was drawn the way it was, shifting about 30,000 Black Charleston-area voters to a new district.

Republican state lawmakers said the boundaries were changed because of politics, not race, and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

In his opinion on the case, which was decided 6-3, Alito cited 2021 research from the Brennan Center that showed the racial voter turnout gap will worsen with restrictive voting laws.

Alito questioned why a nonpartisan staffer with reapportionment experience would have drawn the congressional lines based on racial data “as a proxy for partisan data” when he had access to sub-precinct-level partisan information.

Kevin Morris, a senior research fellow and voting policy scholar at the center, wrote in a report that it’s “necessary to add some clarity to Alito’s thinking.”

Morris noted that in South Carolina, voters do not register with political parties. Under a person’s voter file, it indicates which partisan primary they participate in. He said it should be a good proxy for voting habits but isn’t as reliable as self-identifying.

“Alito accepts that race could be a better predictor of vote choice than party affiliation in South Carolina, but he cites our study to speculate that lower relative turnout of nonwhite voters probably renders racial data unhelpful in map drawing,” Morris wrote. “Quite the opposite.”

In South Carolina, voters self-identify their race when they register to vote, and their voter files hold data on how they voted dating back to the 1990s.

“Put plainly, an ideal place to predict a party nominee’s likely votes in South Carolina is in exactly the sort of place the evidence indicates the state looked: files with racial data,” Morris argued.

Morris questioned why Alito cited their 2021 research when the center released a more comprehensive report just months ago that found South Carolina is the prime example of how race and voting have differed across the country — and how the court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision has affected voting trends over the last decade.

Since 2014, South Carolina’s white and nonwhite voter turnout has grown more quickly than the rest of the country. And in Charleston County, where the Supreme Court case is focused, the gap has grown quicker than anywhere else in the state, the center found.

“In sum, we agree with Alito when he noted that ‘non-white voters turn out at a much lower rate than white voters.’ But his conclusion that this fact means that racial data cannot be used to draw maps that could discriminate is simply not the case,” Morris wrote.

“What this data can and does establish, however, is that the Court’s retreat from protecting voting rights for people of color has resulted in increasing gaps in participation in places like South Carolina,” he concluded.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.