On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled to allow Alabama to use a Republican-drawn map of the state's U.S. congressional districts that a lower court found likely discriminates against Black voters, the Washington Post reports.
In a 5-4 decision, the court’s five conservative justices overturned a decision made by three federal judges last month. The lower court removed Alabama’s new congressional map, which included only one congressional district with a majority of Black voters even though Black people make up more than a quarter of the state’s population. With the Supreme Court’s decision, congressional maps in Alabama in 2022 will be drawn solely by the state’s Republican leaders.
The majority led by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—did not offer a reason for overturning the lower court’s decision, which is common practice whenever the Supreme Court considers an emergency petition. Kavanaugh and Alito penned separate statements claiming the lower court’s ruling could create “chaos" in the fall elections.
Dissenting Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor along with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. described the order as “a disservice to Black Alabamians” who under Supreme Court precedent “have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”
The lower court’s decision argued that the number of white Alabamians had declined while the state’s Black population grew over the last decade. Currently, Black residents make up 27 percent of the state’s population. Because of the state’s population shift, the map should contain two districts with either Black majorities or “in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity” to elect representatives they favor, the panel noted.
“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the panel wrote.
“We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law,” the ruling stated.
The decision by the Supreme Court is another victory for Republican-led legislatures in states across the county. Voting rights advocates view the ruling as a major setback but they promised to stay in the fight.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to intervene is disheartening, but the facts are clear: Alabama’s current congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP Defense and Educational Fund. “The litigation will continue, and we are confident that Black Alabamians will eventually have the congressional map they deserve, one that fairly represents all voters.”
Voting rights for Blacks have been under assault by conservative lawmakers seeking to weaken the Voting Rights Act.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the law, which required federal consent before changes to voting laws in states and localities with a history of discrimination could be made.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the lower court’s decision was wrong because it was based on race.
“The court-ordered redraw marks a radical change from decades of Alabama’s congressional plans,” Marshall wrote. “It will result in a map that can be drawn only by placing race first above race-neutral districting criteria, sorting and splitting voters across the State on the basis of race alone.”
Rep. Terri A. Sewell represents Alabama’s only majority-Black district that was created by a federal court order.