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Supreme Court Says Race Was Improperly Used In Creating North Carolina Congressional Districts

Justice Clarence Thomas joins the more liberal justices in striking down two district maps.

Posted on May 22, 2017, at 11:20 a.m. ET

The Supreme Court on Monday morning upheld a lower court's decision that two North Carolina congressional districts were improperly created — with an eye to the race of the voters too heavily controlling those districts lines.

The entire court held that one of the districts was unconstitutionally devised, with five of the court's eight members voting in the case holding that the second district also was unconstitutionally devised. (Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate.)

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court, joined by its more liberal members and Justice Clarence Thomas, in holding that "racial considerations predominated in designing both Districts 1 and 12" and that the state gave no sufficient reasons for doing so.

"[T]he court below found that race furnished the predominant rationale for that district’s redesign. And it held that the State’s interest in complying with the [Voting Rights Act] could not justify that consideration of race," she wrote as to District 1. "We uphold both conclusions."

Later, as to the second district, Kagan wrote, "[W]e uphold the District Court’s finding of racial predominance respecting District 12. The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration."

The court did so as to both districts, she noted, in part due to the deferential review that the Supreme Court gives to factual conclusions reached by lower courts.

Under the "clear error" standard, Kagan wrote, the Supreme Court would defer to the three-judge district court's findings of fact — "most notably, as to whether racial considerations predominated in drawing district lines" — so long as the court's findings are "plausible in light of the full record."

Thomas wrote a short, two-page opinion concurring with Kagan's opinion for the court, highlighting his support for Kagan's focus on the "clear error" standard of review.

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, would have reversed the lower court and upheld the map for one of the districts, District 12.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield represents District 1, and Alma Adams represents District 12.

This is a developing story. Please check back at BuzzFeed News for the latest news.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.