Did Republicans in two Southern states discriminate against black voters by redrawing historically conservative electoral districts to include more white voters?
That's the question Supreme Court justices have been asked to ponder as attorneys for African-American voters from North Carolina and Virginia argue their clients have been discriminated against, CBS News reported.
Specifically, the black voters say that Republicans redistricted to place them in reliably Democratic districts, while placing more white voters in Republican districts.
In an earlier decision, a federal court ruled that two districts in North Carolina were unconstitutional because the borders were redrawn according to race, while another court rejected voters' claims that 12 legislative districts in Virginia were improperly redrawn.
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It's not the first time Supreme Court justices have been asked to weigh in on allegedly discriminatory gerrymandering, but this time around Justice Anthony Kennedy seems to have the deciding vote, with the other justices are split between agreeing with the voters and denying that the redistricting is unconstitutional, according to The Associated Press.
Kennedy has a mixed record on redistricting cases, CBS notes. In 2013 the justice sided with conservatives on the court in blocking a component of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act dates back to 1965, and was signed by President Lyndon Johnson with the intent of combating discriminatory voting laws.
A key part of the Voting Rights Act prohibits lawmakers from "diluting" minority votes by splitting them into several districts to weaken their strength as a voting bloc, and by relegating them to certain districts so others are less diverse.
The plaintiffs in the current case say they're trying to preserve majority-black districts and prevent Republican majorities from weakening their effectiveness as a voting bloc. For example, Republicans in North Carolina dominate both legislative chambers and hold 10 of the state's 13 congressional seats, CBS reported, but national and statewide elections show the state is more evenly split among Republicans and Democrats than their representation suggests.