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Easley v. Cromartie (2001)

* Governor Michael F. Easley is hereby substituted for former Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., pursuant to this Court"s Rule 35.3.

November 27, 2000, Argued

April 18, 2001, Decided

JUDGES: BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, O"CONNOR, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., joined.

[1A]In this appeal, we review a three-judge District Court"s determination that North Carolina"s legislature used race as the "predominant factor" in drawing its 12th Congressional District"s 1997 boundaries. The court"s findings, in our view, are clearly erroneous. We therefore reverse its conclusion that the State violated the Equal Protection Clause. U.S. Const., Amdt. 14, § 1.

I

This "racial districting" litigation is before us for the fourth time. Our first two holdings addressed North Carolina"s former Congressional District 12, one of two North Carolina congressional districts drawn in 1992 that contained a majority of African-American voters. See Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 125 L. Ed. 2d 511, 113 S. Ct. 2816 (1993) (Shaw I); Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 135 L. Ed. 2d 207, 116 S. Ct. 1894 (1996) (Shaw II).

A

In Shaw I, the Court considered whether plaintiffs" factual allegation -- that the legislature had drawn the former district"s boundaries for race-based reasons -- if true, could underlie a legal holding that the legislature had violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Court held that it could. It wrote that a violation may exist where the legislature"s boundary drawing, though "race neutral on its face," nonetheless can be understood only as an effort to "separate voters into different districts on the basis of race," and where the "separation lacks sufficient justification." 509 U.S. at 649.

In Shaw II, the Court reversed a subsequent three-judge District Court"s holding that the boundary-drawing law in question did not violate the Constitution. This Court found that the district"s "unconventional,"

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