Leah Aden is the lead attorney in South Carolina’s fight against redistricting.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) attorney argued in the Thomas Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, which will determine if South Carolina’s congressional map could have larger margins in the 2024 presidential election. Her oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court marked the redistricting case as “textbook” racial gerrymandering.
Aden wasn’t fearful of the justices’ tough questions.
“I’ve always wanted to do impact work,” she said. “I’ve lived with this case from the ground up.”
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The U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina unanimously found that the state’s legislature was looking to dim the light of Black voting power in January 2023. Thousands of Black residents in Charleston were being moved around from District 1, where Republican Rep. Nancy Mace holds the seat, to District 6, long represented by Rep. James Clyburn, a top Democrat and the state’s lone Black congressman.
South Carolina’s governor, Henry McMaster, signed a new map passed by South Carolina’s General Assembly in January 2022 into law, causing pushback from civil rights advocates. They claim the new law prompted racial gerrymander designed with discriminatory purposes under both the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Under the leadership of state Senate President Thomas Alexander, South Carolina’s legislature appealed the court’s decision in May 2023 and brought the case to the Supreme Court.
Aden reminded the lower court’s finding of “stark racial gerrymandering,” arguing that state lawmakers were “consistently looking at race because they had an expectation that race was a predictor of how political parties would perform.” “In light of the total record, it reflects that there was a racial target, it reflects that there was a significant sorting of Black people,” Aden said.
The Washington, D.C. native is a part of a small but mighty group of oralists and follows in the footsteps of legendary LDF lawyers including the late Constance Baker Motley as well as Christina Swarns, head of the Innocence Project. She prides herself on being a student of Black law and education. “I grew up understanding the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. I am one of its beneficiaries,” the Howard University School of Law graduate said. “Education, that’s our equalizer.”
As the case was filed on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a Hilton Head Island, and a member of the historic Gullah Geechee community, Aden said she was optimistic, according to LDF, and looked forward to the Supreme Court’s decision. “There are congressional elections next year, and every election where our clients don’t have their rights respected is one election too many.”