The Associated Press reported that on Thursday, the Supreme Court made an unexpected decision in favor of Black voters in an Alabama congressional redistricting case, ordering the creation of a second district with a large Black population. A lower court ruling that found a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act in an Alabama congressional map
It contained one majority Black seat out of seven congressional districts in a state where more than one in four residents are Black was upheld by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, along with the liberals on the Court.
The case had been closely watched for its potential to weaken the landmark voting rights law.
In January 2022, a federal panel of three judges ordered Alabama to redraw the congressional map to include a second district with a majority or close to it of Black people. After a seven-day hearing, the judges, two of whom were appointed by President Trump, decided that the plan probably broke the Voting Rights Act.
They wrote, “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”
In response to Alabama’s request to allow the map to be used in the 2022 elections, the Supreme Court put that decision on hold in February 2022. On the other hand, the justices decided on the merits of the Voting Rights claims on Thursday morning.
The opinion reads as follows: “The Court affirms the District Court’s determination that plaintiffs demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim that HB1 (the redistricting bill) violates (Section 2 of the Voting Right Act)” In determining that HB1 likely violates (Section 2), the District Court faithfully applied this Court’s precedents.
In a case in the Northern District of Alabama, the justices upheld the ruling of the three-judge panel and a separate one.
In 2021, individual voters and organizations challenged the district map that the Alabama Legislature approved following the 2020 census. Offended party Evan Milligan gave an assertion commending the choice.
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld what we knew to be true: that everyone deserves to have their vote matter and their voice heard,” Milligan said. “Today is a win for democracy and freedom not just in Alabama but across the United States. This ruling proves politicians cannot weaken our community representation by distorting congressional lines, particularly in Alabama and Louisiana. The voters will be heard, and this ruling will help secure our futures.”
The map was challenged in three lawsuits. The Milligan case and the one in which Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, is a plaintiff were combined by the courts.
The plaintiffs claimed that the map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids racially discriminatory election laws and procedures. Even though Black people make up 27% of Alabama’s population, only one of the seven Congressional districts, or 14%, has a majority Black population, which was a major contention.
In May, Alabama Forward executive director Milligan told AL.com that the outcome of the current case, Allen (for Secretary of State Wes Allen) v. Milligan, will help determine whether the Voting Rights Act is effective in preventing racial gerrymandering of districts.
Ten years ago, in another Alabama case, Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court significantly ruled on the Voting Rights Act. In that case, the Court abolished the requirement that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting must obtain preclearance from the Justice Department before changing election laws.
State officials’ attorneys have argued that the current map is comparable to those the Justice Department approved following the 2000 and 2010 censuses.
According to the state’s lawyers, the Legislature drew the current map using racial-neutral criteria and adjusted it to accommodate the necessary population shifts following the 2020 census.
They argued that the three judges who sided with the plaintiffs made a legal mistake when they said that drawing a Black district with a second majority would require “race-based sorting,” or putting race ahead of all other factors, to implement the Voting Rights Act.
The state’s arguments were rejected by Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the Court’s main opinion. Roberts concurred with the three-judge board that the offended parties fulfilled the legitimate guidelines to show that the guide disregarded the Democratic Freedoms Act by reducing the impact on Black citizens.
Roberts wrote that after a seven-day hearing, a three-judge court correctly determined that Black voters comprised a large population and were geographically compact enough to make a reasonable second majority district. According to the chief justice, the plaintiffs met additional criteria to demonstrate a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
“I am disappointed in today’s Supreme Court opinion, but it remains the commitment of the Secretary of State’s Office to comply with all applicable election laws,” said Republican Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen, the state’s top election official. Attorneys have defended the state’s congressional map on behalf of the secretary of state and other state officials.
Deuel Ross, a lawyer for the Legal Defense Fund who represented the plaintiffs and argued the case in October before the Supreme Court, issued a statement on Thursday morning.
“This decision is a crucial win against the continued onslaught of attacks on voting rights,” Ross said. “Alabama attempted to rewrite federal law by saying race could not be considered in the redistricting process even when necessary to remedy racial discrimination. But because of the state’s sordid and well-documented pattern of persisting racial discrimination, race must be considered to ensure communities of color are not boxed out of the electoral process.
While the Voting Rights Act and other key protections against discriminatory voting laws have been weakened in recent years, and states continue to pass provisions to disenfranchise Black voters, today’s decision is a recognition of Section 2′s purpose of preventing voting discrimination and the fundamental right to a fair shot.”
The decision was supported by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, in addition to Roberts and Kavanaugh. Samuel Alito, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch all dissented.