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Court rules South Carolina’s 1st District uses a racist gerrymander

A federal court ruling that orders South Carolina to redraw Rep. Nancy Mace’s district could have a major impact on the House GOP’s agenda this term.

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Here’s a bit of news that may have been overshadowed by stories of Republican rancor during last week’s chaotic House speaker election. On Friday, a federal court in South Carolina ordered the state’s legislature to redraw the 1st Congressional District, a seat currently held by GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, after judges ruled that the district was drawn using a "stark racial gerrymander" to suppress the power of Black voters.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed last year by the South Carolina NAACP, which alleged that district maps instituted by South Carolina Republicans in January 2022 effectively “deny the ability of Black voters to elect or even influence elections” outside of South Carolina’s 6th District, which is home to the state’s only Black U.S. representative, Jim Clyburn. In Friday’s ruling, a three-judge U.S. District Court panel upheld the NAACP’s claim about the 1st District, but struck down the plaintiffs’ request to have the 2nd and 5th Districts redrawn as well. 

Democrat Joe Cunningham won a surprise victory in South Carolina’s 1st District in 2018, flipping the seat from Republican to Democratic. When Mace challenged him for the seat in 2020, she only won by roughly 1 percentage point.

South Carolina Republicans got to work making sure that wouldn’t happen again. In 2022, they redrew Mace’s district to remove large portions of Charleston that included sizable Black populations. This clearly worked to Mace’s benefit: In November's midterm election, the first since Mace’s district was redrawn, she finished with a nearly 14-point margin over her Democratic opponent

That could partly explain why Mace was so eager and able to tack to the right in her GOP primary, the lead-up to which saw her begging for former President Donald Trump’s support.  

The president of South Carolina’s NAACP, Brenda Murphy, called Friday’s ruling “a crucial win for South Carolina’s Black communities and for our cause to ensure equal and fair political representation in our state.” Mace said in a statement that she plans to “deliver results for the Lowcountry no matter what the lines of [the 1st District] look like.”

If the ruling holds, a redrawn 1st District that makes it more liberal could factor into any decisions Mace makes during this congressional term. And with Republicans holding a slim majority in the House, and individual lawmakers likely to be empowered because of new House rules, Mace’s political calculations might make — or break — any number of right-wing proposals.