Alabama discriminated against Black voters when it drew its seven congressional districts last year, the supreme court has ruled, a decision that is a major victory for the Voting Rights Act.
The decision was 5-4, with chief justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal justices in the opinion. Writing for the majority of the court, Roberts noted the court was rejecting Alabama’s effort to get it to rewrite its longstanding interpretation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which outlaws voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.
“The heart of these cases is not about the law as it exists. It is about Alabama’s attempt to remake our §2 jurisprudence anew,” Roberts wrote. “We 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.”
The decision in the case, Allen v Milligan, means that Alabama will have to draw its congressional map to include a second majority-Black district. Black voters currently comprise a majority of the voting age population in just one district, despite making up a quarter of the state’s population.
Alabama could have easily drawn a second majority-Black district, the challengers in the case argued. They offered several sample maps with possible configurations of how to do so. Last year, a three-judge panel unanimously agreed with that argument and ordered the state to do so. The panel, which included two judges appointed by Donald Trump, said whether the state had violated the law was “not a close one.”
Notably, the majority rejected an argument from Alabama that it should only be required to draw an additional majority-Black district if the plaintiffs could prove it was required without considering race. That theory would have made it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to show discrimination had occurred in redistricting against minority voters.
“This court has long recognized – and as all members of this court today agree – the text of §2 establishes an effects test, not an intent test,” Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion. “The effects test, as applied by Gingles to redistricting, requires in certain circumstances that courts account for the race of voters to prevent the cracking or packing – whether intentional or not – of large and geographically compact minority populations.”
The supreme court intervened in February 2022 in an emergency request and allowed Alabama’s maps to go into effect for the 2022 elections. Even though Alabama’s election was not until the end of May, the court said it was too close to the election to upend the map.
Alabama had argued that the lower court had wrongly decided the case by taking race too much into account. The challengers in the case should have been required to show that they could draw a second majority-Black district without considering race at all, Edmund LaCour, the state’s solicitor general, said during oral argument last year.
The case was seen as a “textbook” example of the kind of discrimination in redistricting that section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was designed to prevent. The provision outlaws any voting practice that discriminates on the basis of race, and litigants have frequently used it to challenge electoral maps that make it harder for minorities to elect the candidate of their choice. It was widely understood to be the most powerful remaining provision in the landmark civil rights law after the US Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v Holder. That decision blocked another part of the landmark civil rights law, requiring states with a history of voting discrimination to get their changes approved by the federal government.
Published: 2023-06-08 14:19:03