Cromartie v. Hunt concerned the constitutionality of the drawing of North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District. District 12 had already been the subject of litigation, with a previous drawing of District 12 having been found unconstitutional because it was drawn as a black-majority district, with race as the primary factor in the district’s makeup. Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899 (1996). After the district was re-drawn, a group of white voters brought this suit claiming that, once again, the district had been drafted primarily to create a black-majority district. The defendant state officials denied that race had been the primary consideration in drawing the district and claimed that the district had been created with the permissible goal of creating a safe Democratic district.
Before discovery, without an evidentiary hearing, and after considering only circumstantial evidence, including the size, shape, compactness, and racial composition of the district, a three-judge panel, in an opinion authored by Boyle, granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. In addition, the court enjoined the defendants from conducting elections for congressional offices until the district was re-drawn. 34 F. Supp. 2d 1029 (1998). The district court’s decision was appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed in an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. 526 U.S. 541 (1999).
Justice Thomas’s opinion dealt with the district court’s violation of the fundamental requirement that, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. To be entitled to judgment in this case, the plaintiffs would have had to prove that “the legislature subordinated traditional race-neutral districting principles . . . to racial considerations.” Id. (quoting Shaw, 517 U.S. at 905; Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. at 916). Because the parties disagreed about the legislature’s motivation, and the legislature’s intent could not be conclusively discerned from mere circumstantial evidence, a genuine dispute of material fact existed, making summary judgment inappropriate. Justice Thomas wrote:
Evidence that blacks constitute even a supermajority in one congressional district while amounting to less than a plurality in a neighboring district will not, by itself, suffice to prove that a jurisdiction was motivated by race in drawing its district lines when the evidence also shows a high correlation between race and party preference . . . While appellee’s evidence might allow the District Court to find that the State acted with an impermissible racial motivation . . . it does not require that that court do so . . . (emphasis in original).
The District Court nevertheless concluded that race was the “predominant factor” in the drawing of the district. In doing so, it either credited appellees’ asserted inferences over those advanced and supported by the appellants or did not give appellants the inference they were due. In any event, it was error in this case for the District Court to resolve the disputed motivation at the summary judgment stage.
Id. at 551-2. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court. Id. at 553.
Following a three-day bench trial, the District Court found that District 12 had been drawn with racial considerations as the primary motive in a 2-1 decision authored, again, by Boyle. Cromartie II, 133 F. Supp. 2d 407 (2000). The court considered the size, shape, and compactness of the district. In addition, the court considered expert testimony claiming that it would have been possible to create a safe Democratic district with fewer minority voters as well as comments by one legislator and one legislative staff member that hinted at a racial motivation in drawing the district. Id. at 410-11.
In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the district court again. Cromartie II, 532 U.S. 234 (2001). The Court held that the evidence Boyle relied upon in his new opinion was “precisely the kind of evidence we said was inadequate the last time this case was before us.” Id. at 244. And, while newly considered statistics and comments hinting at a racial motivation provided “a modicum of evidence supporting the District Court’s conclusion,” id. at 257, the Supreme Court held that all the evidence taken together was insufficient to prove that race was the primary motivating factor in redrawing the district. The Court held that the district court had committed “clear error” in finding for the plaintiffs and reversed the decision.34