Supreme Court issues surprising ruling against Alabama redistricting map deemed in violation of Voting Rights Act

 June 10, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on Thursday that largely caught everybody by surprise as it contradicted assumptions and seemed to run counter to how oral arguments in the case had gone last year.

In a 5-4 decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court's three liberal jurists, the majority upheld a lower court ruling that Alabama had likely violated a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the Associated Press.

That likely violation came by way of a congressional redistricting map adopted by Alabama's Republican-led state legislature in 2021 in which just one of the state's seven congressional districts featured a black majority, despite black residents comprising more than a quarter of the state's population.

Majority upholds lower court, Thomas expresses his dissent

In the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, it was determined that a three-judge district court panel had been correct in ruling that Alabama's redistricting map likely violated Section 2 of the VRA in that it was racially discriminatory by way of diluting the power of black voters in only allotting them one black-majority district when their proportion of the population suggested there should be two black-majority districts.

The ruling was a surprise to many, given that a majority of the court had agreed last year to impose a temporary stay that blocked the lower court's ruling and allowed Alabama to use the challenged district map during the 2022 midterm elections.

It also defied assumptions and preconceived notions based on prior rulings from the Supreme Court over the past decade that have narrowed down certain aspects of the Voting Rights Act as being unconstitutional.

In light of the 5-4 decision, clearly, not every member of the court was on board with the majority, and Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a fiery dissent in which he asserted that the majority's ruling would usher in even more unconstitutional racial discrimination by making race a major factor in redistricting.

Thomas said the ruling forces "Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control several seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population. Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it."

The decision could have impact on similar challenges in other states

According to the AP, the case of Allen v. Milligan will now be remanded back down to the district court level for further proceedings, but while the GOP-led legislature said that it would abide by the decision in redrawing the district map, Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall vowed to keep fighting and take the issue to trial.

"Although the majority’s decision is disappointing, this case is not over," Marshall said.

The outlet further noted that while this case pertained only to Alabama, it could nonetheless be seized upon by groups that have launched similar race-based challenges against the Republican-adopted congressional district maps in other states like Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas.

Biden heralds Court's ruling

Following the Supreme Court's ruling, President Joe Biden said, "Today the Court ruled that Alabama likely violated the Voting Rights Act by drawing a map that diluted Black votes in the state. The right to vote and have that vote counted is sacred and fundamental -- it is the right from which all of our other rights spring."

"Key to that right is ensuring that voters pick their elected officials -- not the other way around. Today’s decision confirms the basic principle that voting practices should not discriminate on account of race, but our work is not done," he added in reference to Democrat-backed voting rights expansion legislation that remains stalled in Congress.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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