Supreme Court upholds Voting Rights Act in surprise ruling against Alabama Republicans

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: The United States Supreme Court building, pictured Thursday, February 10, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature must draw a new electoral district that would likely favor a black Democrat. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court upheld the scope of the Voting Rights Act on Thursday, ruling that Republican lawmakers in Alabama are required to draw a new electoral district that would likely elect a black Democrat to Congress.

By a 5-4 vote, the court rejected an appeal by Republican lawmakers in Alabama and said they needed to draw a second district to achieve greater equality and give black or Latino voters a better chance of winning. elect a candidate of their choice.

The decision in Allen v. Milligan is a surprising victory for civil rights lawyers. They had argued that black voting power would be “diluted” and meaningless if nearly all districts could be carefully selected to preserve white majorities.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., joined by the three court liberals and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, said the Voting Rights Act called for the creation of a new district that could elect a black candidate.

Since the 1980s, the court has held that, where possible, states should draw an electoral map that includes one or more compact districts that give black and Latino candidates a chance to win, Roberts wrote. Alabama could have drawn a compact, majority-minority second district, but did not, he added, echoing last year’s decision by a three-judge panel.

The decision could change the maps of Congress across the South. In addition to Alabama, new district lines could be drawn in Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia leading to the “creation of 2-4 new majority black districts, [Democrats] 2-4 seats,” said David Wasserman, the House expert on Cook’s nonpartisan policy report, wrote on Twitter. Given how divided the House is currently, these changes could be enough to determine control of the House.

The ruling also applies to the constituencies of state legislatures, county councils and city councils.

Suffrage advocates hailed the ruling as a major victory, not because it expanded the law, but because a conservative high court voted to preserve it.

Republicans in Alabama had argued that it was unconstitutional to consider race in drawing district lines.

The National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, called the decision “a massive victory for the vote and for voters across the country. Black voters in Alabama have long been denied fair representation — and today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of voters marks a historic moment to move the needle in the right direction,” said Marina Jenkins, Executive Director of the group.

In 1982, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act to prohibit drawing electoral districts “in a manner that results in denial or restriction of the right … to vote because of race or color” .

Six of Alabama’s seven congressional districts reliably elect a Republican, although approximately 27% of the state’s population is black.

Last year, a three-judge panel decided the state should redraw its map to create a compact second district with a near-black majority. The justices, including two appointed by President Trump, said the Voting Rights Act required giving black voters a meaningful opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.

But in a preliminary GOP victory, the Supreme Court last year blocked that decision.

Congress amended the Voting Rights Act in 1982 to require states to go the extra mile to ensure that blacks and Latinos have a fair opportunity “to elect representatives of their choosing.” This provision was strongly opposed by Roberts, who was then a young Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration.

In response to the amended law, judges agreed that states must consider the race of voters when selecting new districts.

This often led to partisan disputes. Republicans have said they oppose the use of race as a factor in determining electoral districts, and they have said it is not required by the 1982 law or the Constitution. Republican-controlled states also resisted demands to draw more districts that would elect black Democrats instead of white Republicans.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Leave a Comment