In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has allowed Alabama’s Republican-dominated state legislature to keep its newly drawn congressional maps after a previous federal court ruling found that the maps discriminate against Black voters.
The justices said they would hear arguments in the case, teeing up another battle over the Voting Rights Act and the issue of racial gerrymandering on the high court’s docket.
The order issued on 7 February – the first dealing with 2022 elections – will maintain the latest congressional maps ahead of the upcoming election cycle while the legal challenges play out.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberal justices in dissent.
In her furious dissent, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said the decision “does a disservice to Black Alabamians” who “have had their electoral power diminished – in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”
Alabama’s GOP legislators approved a map that significantly dilutes Black residents’ political power, a panel of federal judges ruled on 24 January.
The ruling in US District Court ordered the legislature to create at least two – rather than just one – districts in which Black voters are more likely to be able to elect a representative that more closely resembles the state’s demographics.
“Black voters have less opportunity than other [Alabama residents] to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote. “Any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
The judges said that an “appropriate remedy is a congressional redistricting plan that includes either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”
The Supreme Court decision comes in the middle of a contentious nationwide redistricting cycle, the once-a-decade process of redrafting the nation’s political boundaries based on US Census results.
But states are now, for the first time in decades, drafting those maps without critical protections from the Voting Rights Act, after the Supreme Court invalidated a requirement that changes to voting rules from states with histories of discrimination be approved by the US Department of Justice.
A group of voting rights advocates – including the Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, and a group of voters represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, among others – filed the lawsuit against the state’s newly drawn political boundaries.
A group of Black voters filed a similar lawsuit in 2018 and lost.
Meanwhile, similar lawsuits against new congressional maps are pending in Texas and North Carolina. The Justice Department has sued Texas over newly drawn maps approved by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature.
Roughly 27 per cent of Alabama’s population is Black, though Black residents represent one of seven of the state’s congressional districts.
The state’s sole majority Black district – currently represented by Democratic US Rep Terri Sewell – has a voting population that is 60 per cent Black, roughly one-third of the state’s Black population. The state’s remaining Black population is “cracked” across the First, Second and Third congressional districts – all represented by Republicans.