After the 1990 Census increased North Carolina's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from 11 to 12, the state General Assembly created a new apportionment plan, with one district drawn to ensure an African-American majority. The U.S. Attorney General's Office objected, stating that the population makeup of the state (78% white, 20% black, and 1% each Native American and Asian) made a single majority-minority district insufficient. In a special legislative session, the General Assembly rewrote the apportionment plan to create an additional majority-minority district. The unusual shapes of the revised districts ("a First District map which looks like a Rorschach ink-blot test and … a serpentine Twelfth District that slinks down the Interstate Highway 85 corridor," observed Justice Voorhees of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina) led to a federal court challenge by a group of North Carolina voters. Robinson Everett represented the plaintiffs (which originally included himself and fellow Duke Law professor Melvin G. Shimm) in this series of four cases, all of which eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court:
- Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993) held that the district’s bizarre new boundaries were "unexplainable on grounds other than race," and that the legislature had not provided sufficient justification to withstand a strict-scrutiny examination. The case was remanded to the U.S. District Court.
(Note: Duke Law professor H. Jefferson Powell argued for the state in this case. Everett later wrote in prepared remarks to the International Association of Barristers that "[T]his apparently was the first time in the Court’s history that two law professors from the same school had argued against each other;" a copy of this speech can be found in the display case.)
- Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899 (1996) confirmed that North Carolina had failed to articulate a compelling government interest for the redrawn Twelfth District, and that the reapportionment plan violated the Equal Protection Clause. (At this point, the Court also held that only residents of the 12th District had standing to continue the suit, which included Professor Shimm but not Judge Everett, who continued to serve as counsel to the remaining eligible plaintiffs.)
- Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541 (1999) challenged the 1997 redrawing of the Twelfth District. The U.S. District Court had granted summary judgment in this new challenge, holding that the redrawn boundaries still constituted an Equal Protection Clause violation. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that the legislature’s motivation was a genuine issue of material fact which made the case ineligible for summary disposition.
- Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234 (2001) reviewed the U.S. District Court’s finding after remand (from Hunt v. Cromartie, above) that the 1997 legislature's motive was predominantly racial rather than political. The Supreme Court disagreed, reversing the District Court’s ruling as "clearly erroneous" and stating, "[T]he party attacking the legislatively drawn boundaries must show at the least that the legislature could have achieved its legitimate political objectives in alternative ways that are comparably consistent with traditional districting principles. That party must also show that those districting alternatives would have brought about significantly greater racial balance. Appellees failed to make any such showing here."
(Note: Duke Law professor emeritus and former interim dean Walter E. Dellinger represented the North Carolina governor in both Cromartie cases.)
To read more about the extraordinary life of Robinson Everett, see the Duke Law in memoriam page. Daniel P. Tokaji’s chapter Representation and Raceblindness: The Story of Shaw v. Reno in 2008's Race Law Stories provides excellent background on the Shaw-Cromartie cases. To learn more about the legal and political issues involved in congressional redistricting more generally, try a subject heading search of the Duke Libraries Catalog for “Apportionment (Election Law) – United States” or Ask a Librarian.