Democrats sue over SC's US House plan

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina Democrats filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging the U.S. House district lines drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature, calling them electoral apartheid.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the plans improperly pack black voters into U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's 6th District and made that district the state's largest in terms of area covered. He said black voters influence should have increased elsewhere.

"We call it electoral apartheid," Harpootlian said.

The U.S. Justice Department last week told legislators it would not challenge the district layout. But that doesn't mean that other groups can't take the plans to court, and Harpootlian said the Justice Department's decision not to oppose the district lines is not the same as embracing it.

"It's not the Good Housekeeping seal of approval," he said.

Redistricting is a once-a-decade process to make sure political district lines reflect population changes revealed by the U.S. Census. South Carolina is picking up a seventh U.S. House seat -- something the Palmetto State had years ago, before population fell in 1930.

The proposed maps for South Carolina and other Southern states require federal approval under the Voting Rights Act because of a history of inequitable treatment of black voters.

The Justice Department on Oct. 11 approved new district maps for the state House. It is still considering plans for the state Senate. Harpootlian said he already is preparing his legal challenge for the state House districts.

Harpootlian has said the Justice Department is using an antiquated standard as states draw district lines to maintain black-majority districts. He said time and again voters in the South are giving more support to candidates without regard to their race. He notes as an example U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, a black Republican who won the state's 1st District last year.

At least a dozen Republicans and Democrats are expected to run or have already announced plans to run for the new 7th district, including state Reps. Thad Viers and Ted Vick, former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Jim Pratt, who had previously run against U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn in the 6th District. Republicans are planning the first debate for the contest in January. And Democrats, including state Rep. Ted Vick, have announced plans as well.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)