Supreme Court rejects Alabama congressional map in fight over Black voting power

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with a group of voters in Alabama who are challenging the way the state drew its congressional districts, the latest development in a case with national implications for Black voting power and, potentially, control of Congress.

In a one-sentence order, the justices rejected a request from Alabama to block a lower court ruling that found the state’s districts violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The lower court also appointed an expert to draw a new map, a responsibility usually left to state legislatures.

Though not unexpected, the Supreme Court’s decision was a victory for voting rights groups who note Alabama’s map included only one majority Black district out of seven, even though African Americans make up 27% of the state’s population.

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There were no noted dissents.

“It has been a long and frustrating battle holding the Alabama legislature accountable, but today it is a rewarding one,” the plaintiffs in the case, who are represented by the Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, said in a joint statement. “We look forward to a new era in our state’s history, in which power is shared and Black voices are heard.”

A spokesperson for Alabama’s attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While limited to Alabama, the case will have ramifications in other states, especially in the South, and could give Democrats an advantage in next year’s election. That’s because the Alabama case will influence similar litigation over maps in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Georgia and other states where the interplay between race, politics and redistricting has been fraught for decades.

Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia STANKD-UP,  joins

Alabama redistricting: What’s at issue at the Supreme Court

Every decade, states redraw the boundaries of their congressional districts to account for population changes. It’s a technical and − in most states − highly political process in which lawmakers try to eke out an advantage by drawing “safe” districts for their party. The Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts won’t get involved in messy disputes over partisan line drawing.

But racial gerrymanders are another matter: In their pursuit of political advantage, state lawmakers can’t try to disadvantage minority voters by “packing” them all into a single district or “cracking” their communities into multiple districts to reduce their power.

In Alabama, a three-judge panel last year said that is likely what happened when the state drew its map after the 2020 census. The court said it didn’t even regard the question of whether the maps violated the law “as a close one.” Two of the three judges in the case were appointed by former President Donald Trump.

Wasn’t the Alabama case already decided by the Supreme Court?

Perhaps underscoring the wider significance of the case, Alabama’s maps have repeatedly showed up at the nation’s highest court.

In June, a 5-4 majority rejected Alabama’s argument that what it described as a “race blind” approach to drawing congressional districts was permitted under the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts described a nuanced approach in which states shouldn’t let race be the primary factor in deciding how to draw boundaries − but it should be considered. “The line that we have drawn is between consciousness and predominance,” he wrote.

Alabama lawmakers quickly drew another map, but the second version also included only a single district where Black voters make up a majority – or something close to it. The state said its new map resolved the matter, but the lower court again struck it down.

The state relied in part on a concurring opinion from Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the 5-4 majority in June but who expressed some reservations. Even if Congress has the power to “authorize race-based redistricting,” Kavanaugh wrote in June, that power “cannot extend indefinitely into the future.”

After losing at the lower court a second time, Alabama asked the Supreme Court this month to step in to block that lower court’s ruling.  

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