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Federal court rules South Carolina can use congressional map previously declared unconstitutional

A federal court said Thursday that it will allow a US House election in South Carolina for Republican Rep. Nancy Mace’s seat to proceed under a map it had previously declared unconstitutional.

In a brief order, the judges in the case said they had little choice, given a fast-approaching deadline to prepare for the primary election for the state’s down-ballot contests.

Last year, the three-judge panel held that the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature had “exiled” more than 30,000 Black residents from the coastal 1st Congressional District, which is anchored in Charleston County, in what the court called a “bleaching” to benefit Republicans. That amounted to an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, the judges concluded.

South Carolina officials appealed to the US Supreme Court, and the justices heard arguments in the case in October. At the time, the conservative justices in the majority seemed skeptical of arguments that the state’s lawmakers had engaged in impermissible racial gerrymandering in drawing the district lines.

But the high court has not yet issued an opinion in the case. Courts have in the past permitted gerrymandering for partisan reasons, but racial gerrymandering has been deemed illegal.

With the state facing deadlines to start preparing and sending absentee ballots to overseas and military voters for the June 11 primary, it’s “plainly impractical” to order a new map, the judges said in Thursday’s order.

They said they recognized that it’s unusual to allow an election to proceed under a map they had deemed invalid. “But with the primary election procedures rapidly approaching, the appeal before the Supreme Court still pending, and no remedial plan in place,” the judges said, “the ideal must bend to the practical.”

Mace faces a competitive Republican primary in her bid for a third term. Challengers include former state Cabinet official Catherine Templeton, and Mace’s onetime chief of staff Daniel Hanlon has also filed to run.

Mace earlier this month received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who called her a “strong conservative voice.” A onetime Trump critic, Mace has since become an outspoken ally of the former president.

What had been a competitive district was redrawn by state Republicans in 2022 to become safer for their party. Trump would have carried the 1st District under its current lines by 9 points in 2020.

Mace won reelection in 2022 by 14 points, after winning the seat under the previous map by a single point two years earlier.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Andrew Menezes contributed to this report.

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