Cooper v. Harris, 581 U.S. ___ (2017), is a case by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court ruled 5–3 that the North Carolina General Assembly used race too heavily in re-drawing two Congressional districts following the 2010 Census.[1][2]

Cooper v. Harris
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued December 5, 2016
Decided May 22, 2017
Full case nameRoy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina, et al., appellants vs. David Harris, et al.
Docket no.15-1262
Citations581 U.S. ___ (more)
136 S. Ct. 2512; 197 L. Ed. 2d 837
Case history
PriorHarris v. McCrory, 159 F. Supp. 3d 600 (M.D.N.C. 2016); probable jurisdiction noted, 136 S. Ct. 2512 (2016).
North Carolina relied too heavily on race in redrawing two Congressional districts after the 2010 Census (M.D.N.C. affirmed)
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Anthony Kennedy · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Samuel Alito · Sonia Sotomayor
Elena Kagan · Neil Gorsuch
Case opinions
MajorityKagan, joined by Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor
Concur/dissentAlito, joined by Roberts and Kennedy
Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV
Voting Rights Act of 1965

At issue in particular were the 1st and 12th districts. Voters in Mecklenburg County asserted that the 1st was "akin to a Rorschach ink blot," and that the 12th, though 120 miles long, at times "averag[ed] only a few miles wide." The 12th had already been a part of several cases that went to the Supreme Court.[3][4] North Carolina residents being represented by Harris deemed districts 1 and 12 unconstitutional due to the districts being designed as majority- black districts after the 1990 census. Districts 1 and 12 were drawn with the black voting-age populations (BVAP) being less than fifty percent, following the 2000 census, both districts continued to vote for candidates preferred by black voters in the next five elections. Nonetheless, the republican-controlled legislature designed a new map after the 2010 census that again redrew districts 1 and 12 as majority black thus prompting the present lawsuit.[5]

On February 5, 2016, the three-judge United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina found that both districts were unconstitutional due to the predominance of racial considerations in their creation, in which Circuit Judge Roger Gregory was joined by Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr., over the dissent of Judge William Lindsay Osteen Jr. regarding District 12.[6][7]

On December 5, 2016, oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court, where Paul Clement appeared for the governor, Marc Elias appeared for the voters, and an assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General appeared as a friend in support of the voters.[8]

The state argued that the African-American population of the districts was increased in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but the Court found that argument "does not withstand strict scrutiny" for the 1st district, as its African-American population had previously been less than a majority of its voters, yet African-Americans' "preferred candidates scored consistent victories."[9]

On May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court delivered judgment in favor of Harris,[8] voting 5-3 to affirm the judgment of the district court.[7] Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas.[10] Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, issued an opinion concurring in the judgment and dissenting in part, arguing that District 12 was constitutional.[11] Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the case, which was argued before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court.[11]

When the state redrew the maps from the District Order, they did not use any racial profiling data, but did rely heavily on partisan distributions. The subsequent map has been challenged again, and the case was heard by the Supreme Court as Rucho v. Common Cause in March 2019.


  1. ^ Cooper v. Harris, No. 15-1262, 581 U.S. ___ (2017).
  2. ^ Liptak, Adam (May 22, 2017). "Supreme Court Strikes Down 2 North Carolina Congressional Districts". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Blythe, Anne (May 22, 2017). "U.S. Supreme Court agrees NC lawmakers created illegal congressional district maps in 2011". The Charlotte Observer.
  4. ^ North Carolina's 12th district was the subject of Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993), Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541 (1999), and Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234 (2001).
  5. ^ "Cooper V. Harris". Harvard Law Review. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  6. ^ Harris v. McCrory, 159 F. Supp. 3d 600 (M.D.N.C. 2016).
  7. ^ a b The Supreme Court, 2016 Term — Leading Cases, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 303 (2017).
  8. ^ a b "Cooper v. Harris". Oyez Project. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  9. ^ Bland, Scott (May 22, 2017). "Supreme Court rules North Carolina congressional districts unconstitutional". Politico.
  10. ^ Barnes, Robert (22 May 2017). "Supreme Court rules race improperly dominated N.C. redistricting efforts". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  11. ^ a b Stohr, Greg (22 May 2017). "Supreme Court Rejects North Carolina Congressional Districts". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 22 May 2017.

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