Alabama must redraw its voter maps
By a 5-to-4 vote on June 8, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama must redraw its congressional maps to create one more majority-black voting district. Alabama has seven congressional seats. But the state where one in four voters is black has only one African American representative
After Census 2020, Alabama’s Republican-dominated legislature drew new district lines that packed large numbers of Black voters into one congressional district. The remaining Black population was spread out in other districts. Gerrymandering has diluted the political power of minority voters by fracking and packing the congressional districts. Though Black voters had a majority in one district, they had little chance of electing a second representative of their choice.
Now officials in Alabama will have to redraw the state’s congressional map to adhere to the Supreme Court ruling for an additional Black majority district.
Upholding The Voting Rights Act
Plaintiffs appealed the state’s legislative map at the Supreme Court, stating that the redistricting plan adopted by the State of Alabama for its 2022 congressional elections violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs built an “undeniable record” in the case to uphold Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
Section 2 bars election (in this case, redistricting) practices that result in a denial or curtailment of the right to vote based on race.
In an unexpected move, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined Justice John Roberts and the progressive wing of the court by ruling that the redrawn Congressional map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, by diluting votes of the state’s Black residents.
“A district is not equally open, in other words, when minority voters face – unlike their majority peers – bloc voting along racial lines, arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the State, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a nonminority voter, ” said Justice Roberts.
A surprise decision
It also came as a surprise when Justice John Roberts penned the decision, given that 10 years ago, he effectively gutted a separate section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing election laws.
The earlier 5-4 ruling allowed the current gerrymandered map to remain while the court considered the case, razing a federal court order requiring another majority Black district. Later that year, the court also allowed Louisiana to use controversial maps that lower courts had struck down.
“Between those rulings and lower courts following them in other states, that led directly to at least three, and as many as six, seats in the current House controlled by Republicans that might otherwise have been controlled by Democrats – along with the House itself,” said Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“In other words, today’s ruling appears to repudiate the Court’s interventions in 2022, which may have directly contributed to Republican control of the current House of Representatives.”
Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in the case, and Executive Director of Alabama Forward was stunned, then overjoyed to hear news of the victory. At a June 23 briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services. Milligan said he was at the church where Martin Luther King had delivered a sermon in 1964 when he heard of the ruling. It was a long shot, he remarked, “but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the shot.”
The future of voting rights
“It is a victory that we have preserved Section 2 and this case will have impact well beyond Alabama,” said Stuart Naifeh, Manager of the Redistricting Project at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF).
On June 26th, the Supreme Court lifted the hold on the Louisiana redistricting case forcing the state to redraw congressional districts. About a third of Louisiana’s residents are Black.
In Georgia, it might be possible to draw a fourth Black-majority district in metro Atlanta.
Ongoing litigation over the political maps Texas drew in 2021 will feel its impact.
The House currently has 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats, and one vacancy. Given the narrow margin in the House right now, this ruling could be pivotal.
“Republicans right now have just a four-seat majority. This ruling could potentially have a major impact on how the House is configured,” said election analyst David Wasserman to NPR.