Voters in those districts sued, claiming the lawmakers had intentionally reduced African American voting power elsewhere in the state.
"This is a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering", stated Eric H. Holder Jr., chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
Congressional Districts 1 and 12 were deemed to be unconstitutional, and the areas which now contain two HBCUs - North Carolina Central University and Johnson C. Smith University, will remain redrawn to address racial inequities.
In North Carolina, both districts have since been redrawn and the state conducted elections under the new congressional map in 2016. Now legal analysts say that the decision has thrown the door wide open for more lawsuits of partisan congressional district lines.
In Monday's opinion, Kagan also wrote: "The Constitution entrusts states with the job of designing congressional districts". There are, roughly, two types of gerrymandering that come before the court: Gerrymandering by political party, and gerrymandering by race.
The court's decision centered on two congressional districts that previously contained a substantial percentage of African-American voters, but not a majority. At the same time, race can't be the predominant factor without very strong reasons, under a series of high court decisions.
The federal district court had struck down the congressional districts, specifically the 1 and 12, because there were too many black voters in them, causing the other districts to not have enough to provide any influence.
Kagan, along with liberal Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Breyer, plus conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, found race was the factor. Justice Anthony Kennedy, usually the swing vote in the court, was in dissent, along with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had not yet joined the court when arguments in the case were heard in December, did not participate in the ruling. It argued the Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to make surrounding districts safer for GOP candidates.
These two districts were drawn in 2016 after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Republicans had previously drawn congressional districts for the same objective, along racial lines.
As for the 12th District, the court said the evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district's reconfiguration. "It is fact-specific, and there's a lot politically riding on these decisions, and sometimes taking your chance at the Supreme Court can be important".
States reconsider districts following each census, and the endeavor is a political football.
It's the latest case where justices ruled against race-based redistricting, even after tossing many protections for minority voters. To ensure compliance with the VRA, North Carolina asserted, it had drawn both districts to be majority black. The state voted in new districts in the 2016 elections, with Republicans maintaining their 10-3 advantage in the new districts. The state's Republican legislative leadership had asked the Supreme Court to get involved, but the Democratic governor and attorney general said they did not want to defend the law.
"North Carolina voters deserve a level playing field and fair elections, and I'm glad the Supreme Court agrees", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said.
The Supreme Court refused to consider reinstating the 2013 North Carolina voting law that discriminated against African American voters, according to a lower court ruling.
In Cooper, North Carolina's defense of CD 1 was all about question 2. Some of you have even followed through with subscriptions, which is especially gratifying.