The Supreme Court has sided with Black voters in a redistricting case in Alabama.
The court on Thursday June 8, 2023, ordered the creation of a second district with a significant Black population, affirming a lower-court ruling that found a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the liberal justices in this decision, marking a potential weakening of the landmark voting rights law.
Previously, the court had allowed the challenged map to be used for the 2022 elections, and during arguments, the justices seemed inclined to make it more challenging to use the voting rights law to challenge racially discriminatory redistricting plans.
Chief Justice Roberts had previously expressed openness to changes in how discrimination claims are weighed under section 2 of the law.
In Thursday’s ruling, however, Roberts stated that the court would not overhaul the existing section 2 case law as requested by Alabama.
Notably, Chief Justice Roberts had been part of conservative majorities in previous cases that made it harder for racial minorities to utilize the Voting Rights Act.
The four remaining conservative justices dissented, with Justice Clarence Thomas arguing that the decision mandated Alabama to intentionally redraw its congressional districts to achieve proportional representation for Black voters, which he believed was not required by section 2 and would be unconstitutional.
The case centered around Alabama’s seven-district congressional map, where one district provided a majority Black population capable of electing their preferred candidate. However, the challengers argued that one district was insufficient given Alabama’s overall Black population of more than 25%.
A three-judge panel, with two appointees of former President Donald Trump, determined that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the votes of Black Alabamians and ordered the drawing of a new map.
Alabama swiftly appealed to the Supreme Court, resulting in the conservative justices preventing the lower-court ruling from taking effect and allowing the congressional elections to proceed under the possibly illegal map.
The Supreme Court decided to hear the Alabama case and held arguments in October. In a separate case involving Louisiana’s congressional map, the Supreme Court also allowed the map, which was identified as potentially discriminatory by a lower court, to remain in effect.
The case has underlying partisan implications, as Republican officials in Alabama have been reluctant to create a second district with a Black majority that could elect a Democrat to Congress.
The judges concluded that Alabama had concentrated Black voters in one district while spreading them out among the others, making it impossible for them to elect their preferred candidate.
The judges determined that “Alabama’s Black population was sufficiently large and geographically compact to warrant the creation of a second district.”
During the October arguments, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed skepticism toward the notion that race should not be considered in redistricting.
She emphasized that “constitutional amendments passed after the Civil War and the Voting Rights Act, enacted a century later, were intended to ensure equality for Black Americans.”
Justice Jackson, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, believed that a decision like the one issued on Thursday would result in fewer districts drawn to provide racial minorities with the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.