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Supreme Court Rejects Alabama’s Congressional District Map, Orders State to Redraw It

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Alabama to redraw its congressional map after ruling that the initial one following the 2020 Census violated the Voting Rights Act.

The high court ordered the map to include “an additional black majority district to account for the fact that the state is 27% black,” CNN reported.

“The decision – that affords additional opportunities for minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice – comes as a surprise given the conservative majority on the court,” CNN added, noting further that the ruling was 5-4.

SCOTUS Blog, which tracks rulings in real-time, noted earlier, “A three-judge district court held in this case that the challengers demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim that Alabama’s congressional maps violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans discrimination in voting. The court today upholds that determination.”

In Part III of the decision, which he authored, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the “heart of these cases is not about the law as it exists. It is about Alabama’s attempt to remake our [Section] 2 jurisprudence.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sided with the court’s liberals and Roberts, “says that he agrees that Alabama’s redistricting plan violates Section 2 as interpreted in Thornburg v. Gingles. He has four separate points to make,” SCOTUS Blog noted, adding:

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First, he says, courts should generally not overrule statutes — that’s for Congress to do.

Second, he says, contrary to what the state says, Gingles does not require a proportional number of majority-minority districts.

Kavanaugh rejects the idea that courts should rely on race-blind computer simulations. He said that would be helpful to detect the presence or absence of intentional discrimination, but the VRA establishes an effects test, rather than an intent test.

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Finally, Kavanaugh rejects the argument that requiring race-based redistricting violates the Constitution.

Justice Thomas dissents, joined by Justices Gorsuch in full and Justices Barrett and Alito in part.

“We are content to reject Alabama’s invitation to change existing law,” Roberts said, according to CNN.

The fact that Roberts authored the decision comes as a surprise, considering that a decade ago, he played a significant role in significantly weakening a different section of the Voting Rights Act. That particular section mandated that states with a history of discrimination seek federal approval before making any changes to their election laws, the network noted further.

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Roberts added that Section 2 “may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power within the States is, of course, not new,” but he said the opinion “does not diminish or disregard these concerns” he said.

“It simply holds that a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here,” Roberts said, arguing further that he believes Alabama’s argument “runs headlong into our precedent.”

“A district is not equally open, in other words, when minority voters face – unlike their majority peers – bloc voting along racial lines, arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the State, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a nonminority voter,” Roberts added.

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Voting Rights Act should not be applied when it comes to redistricting based on Census.

“At the outset, I would resolve these cases in a way that would not require the Federal Judiciary to decide the correct racial apportionment of Alabama’s congressional seats,” Thomas wrote, going on to argue that he believed the VRA’s text focused “on ballot access and counting.”

In March, the high court ordered North Carolina Republican leaders, the Biden administration, and voting rights groups to file additional briefs in a closely watched case as the 2024 presidential election looms. 

That case centers around whether legislatures have most of the authority to redraw congressional maps without court interference.

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