A lower court judgment that Alabama must draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections to strengthen Black voting power was put on hold by the Supreme Court. The top court decision improves Republicans’ prospects of winning six of the state’s seven House seats.
The court’s decision, announced Monday by a 5-4 vote, means that the upcoming elections will be held under a map drawn by Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature, which includes one majority-Black district, which is represented by a Black Democrat, in a state where more than a quarter of the population is Black.
The state had likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the political power of Black voters by not creating a second district in which they made up a majority, or close to it, according to a three-judge lower court, including two justices chosen by former President Donald Trump.
The conservative majority’s Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito argued that the lower court’s decision for a new map was too soon to the 2022 election season.
In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts joined three other liberal justices.
The justices will consider whether the state’s map violates the key voting rights statute at a later date, a case that might throw into question “decades of this Court’s precedent regarding Section 2 of the VRA,” according to Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent.
That ruling is expected to regulate Alabama elections from 2024 through the end of the decade, and it might have ramifications for minority political participation across the country.
Following the results of the 2020 census, Alabama lawmakers redrew the state’s congressional districts. Several voter groups filed lawsuits, claiming that the altered maps weakened the voting power of African-Americans.
The three judges ruled unanimously in late January that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in proving that the state had violated the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the panel ordered lawmakers to redesign the boundaries such that Black voters are a majority, or close to it, in two districts rather than just one. The decision was almost 200 pages long.
“We do not see the question… as a close one,” the panel wrote.
Alabama requested that the judgment be put on hold while it appealed, and the justices agreed. The state maintained that the new map was drawn using race-neutral principles and that it is comparable to previous maps.
More than a dozen predominantly Republican-led states had submitted a brief urging the court to rule in Alabama’s favor and allow the state to keep the maps it designed.
The state’s congressional districts, according to Deuel Ross, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, are “a textbook instance of a Voting Rights Act violation,” and the high court’s decision to interfere is discouraging.
However, the facts are unmistakable. In an email to The Associated Press, Ross, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said. “The present congressional map in Alabama is in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” he stated. “We are sure that Black Alabamians will finally get the congressional map they deserve — one that fairly represents all votes,” said the group.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall hailed the ruling as a “win” for the state, predicting that the state will “ultimately succeed” in the ongoing legal battle.
Marshall’s office contended that the state’s congressional districts are identical to those that have been in operation since the 1990s and have been allowed by the courts.
Roberts, who usually votes against racial considerations, stated that while he shares some of Alabama’s concerns, he would still have allowed the reconfigured districts control the 2022 election and future elections be regulated by the case’s final conclusion.
In a letter explaining his vote, Kavanaugh noted that the court had previously rejected to modify the rules so close to an election.
“When an election is on the verge of being decided, the rules of the road must be plain and unambiguous. Late judicial fiddling with election regulations can cause chaos, as well as unintended and unfavorable effects for candidates, political parties, and voters. It’s one thing for a state to tinker with its election regulations in the run-up to an election. But it’s quite another for a federal court to intervene and rewrite a state’s election rules in the run-up to an election,” he said in an opinion supported by Alito.
Kagan took issue with Kavanaugh, pointing out that the lower court made its decision months before any votes were cast.
She chastised conservatives for utilizing the shadow docket emergency application procedure “to telegraph or create changes in the law, without anything approaching proper briefing and debate,” she said.