Three federal judges Friday unanimously upheld the new boundaries drawn for South Carolina House seats and congressional districts, clearing the way for candidates to start filing to run for the posts next week.
“(Democrats) had a tall challenge to prove that the plans were not valid, and they didn’t meet it,” said Rob Tyson, an attorney who represented House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, in a federal lawsuit that challenged the new district lines as discriminatory.
In a news release, Harrell said he was pleased with the ruling – but disappointed the new districts had been challenged. “... (I)t is unfortunate that our state’s taxpayers had to endure the cost of this completely frivolous and politically driven lawsuit.”
A spokesman for Harrell said he did not know how much the lawsuits cost.
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Attorney Dick Harpootlian, the state Democratic Party chairman who challenged the districts in court, said Harrell “shouldn’t begrudge ordinary citizens’ right to get redress against their government.”
Republicans don’t mind spending taxpayer money to sue the federal government – referring to the state’s lawsuits challenging the new federal health care law, Harpootlian said. “If they spent too much money, it’s because they hired too many lawyers.”
Lawmakers redrew the boundaries for South Carolina’s state House, state Senate and congressional districts last summer, using the latest data, from the 2010 census. The new districts – which include a new 7th Congressional District anchored in Horry County – were approved by President Obama’s Department of Justice, as required by the Voting Rights Act.
But Harpootlian, acting on behalf of eight black voters, challenged the new districts, saying the only guideline that the GOP-controlled Legislature used to draw them was race and the resulting districts diluted black voting power.
Federal Judges Patrick Michael Duffy, Henry F. Floyd and Margaret B. Seymour rejected Harpootlian’s argument after a two-day trial, held last week.
“Plaintiffs have failed to prove that the General Assembly acted with a discriminatory purpose,” Duffy wrote. “There is no convincing evidence indicating the General Assembly drew the district lines for the purpose of diluting plaintiffs’ voting strengths.”
Harpootlian said he will decide Monday whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Filing for state and congressional races opens Friday.
Read the judges’ ruling below: