The Supreme Court voted 5–4 on June 8 to strike down Alabama’s electoral map for congressional elections, ruling that it was racially discriminatory.
The court narrowly found that the map drafted by Alabama Republicans violated the provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) which requires that states not racially gerrymander districts.
Most members of the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives are Republicans. The court’s ruling, which requires the adoption of a different map before the 2024 elections, may benefit Democrats.
The decision no doubt comes as a relief to left-leaning civil rights activists who worried about how the conservative-dominated Supreme Court would interpret section 2 of the VRA, which “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership” in a large language minority group, according to a summary.
Alabama had asked the Supreme Court to weaken section 2, arguing the U.S. Constitution required such remedial action.
Oral arguments were heard October 4, 2022, in what is actually two cases, Allen v. Milligan and Allen v. Caster, which the court consolidated.
Representing the Biden administration, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar weighed in against Alabama.
“Voting in Alabama is intensely racially polarized, about as stark as anywhere in the country. The history and effects of racial discrimination in the state are severe. Black voters are significantly underrepresented,” she said at the time.
Alabama defended its redrawn electoral map, arguing the law does not require the state to redraw districts to assure black representation in the state’s congressional delegation.
On January 24, 2022, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama issued a preliminary injunction against Alabama’s then-secretary of state, John Merrill, a Republican, temporarily forbidding him from conducting any congressional elections in the state. Merrill has since been succeeded by Wes Allen, also a Republican.
That court found that instead of having one predominantly black congressional district, as it currently has, federal law and existing legal precedents required the state to have two predominantly black districts. Alabama disagreed. The state’s delegation to the U.S. House currently consists of six Republicans and one Democrat. Both of the state’s U.S. senators are also Republicans.
The lower court found that this was “an extreme and atypical case of vote dilution,” Prelogar said during oral arguments.
On February 7, 2022, the Supreme Court stayed the lower court ruling over the dissents of Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as then-Justice Stephen Breyer, who, in June 2022, was replaced on the bench with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a nominee of President Joe Biden.
The new majority opinion (pdf) in the case at hand was written by Roberts, who was joined by the three liberal justices as well as Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
In the ruling, Roberts said the court disagreed with Alabama’s position on section 2.
“We are content to reject Alabama’s invitation to change existing law,” the chief justice wrote.
“[W]e find Alabama’s new approach to §2 compelling neither in theory nor in practice. We accordingly decline to recast our §2 case law as Alabama requests.”
Roberts acknowledged the concerns of some that section 2 “may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power within the States.”
He quoted an earlier precedent in which the court held that “[r]acial gerrymandering, even for remedial purposes, may balkanize us into competing racial factions; it threatens to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race no longer matters.”
But Roberts added that today’s opinion “does not diminish or disregard these concerns. It simply holds that a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here.”
Alabama’s position “runs headlong into our precedent,” he wrote.
“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. ”
Justice Clarence Thomas penned a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Samuel Alito.
“The question presented is whether §2 of the Act, as amended, requires the State of Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population,” Thomas wrote.
“Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it.”
“At the outset, I would resolve these cases in a way that would not require the Federal Judiciary to decide the correct racial apportionment of Alabama’s congressional seats,” the justice wrote.
The text of the VRA is focused “on ballot access and counting,” he added.
Alito wrote his own dissenting opinion in the case.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland promptly hailed the new majority opinion.
“Today’s decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections and preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on their race,” Garland said in a statement.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow,” Garland said. “Over the past two years, the Justice Department has rededicated its resources to enforcing federal voting rights protections. We will continue to use every authority we have left to defend voting rights. But that is not enough. We urge Congress to act to provide the Department with important authorities it needs to protect the voting rights of every American.”
From The Epoch Times