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Court denies Alabama’s request to use voting map with only one majority-Black district

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Alabama’s request to allow it to use a congressional map in the 2024 elections that a lower court had concluded likely violates the Voting Rights Act. The brief unsigned order, from which there were no public dissents, came less than four months after a divided Supreme Court agreed that the 2021 iteration of the map violated federal law by weakening the collective voting power of Black voters in the state.

Tuesday’s order from the Supreme Court means that the redistricting process in Alabama will go forward with court-appointed experts preparing new maps that include a second majority-Black district.

The dispute arises from Alabama’s efforts to draw a new congressional map in the wake of the 2020 census for its seven seats in the House of Representatives. Nearly 27 percent of the state’s residents are Black, but the map that the state’s legislature enacted in 2021 had just one majority-Black district. That prompted voters and civil rights groups to go to federal court, where they argued that the 2021 map diluted the voting power of Black people.

A federal court in Alabama agreed with the challengers that the 2021 map likely violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in voting. In February 2022, the Supreme Court temporarily put that order on hold, which allowed Alabama to use its map in the 2022 elections, and agreed to review the lower courts’ decisions.

In June of this year, a divided Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision in favor of the challengers. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts explained that the lower court had “faithfully applied our precedents and correctly determined that, under existing law,” the 2021 map violated Section 2. Roberts also rejected what he characterized as Alabama’s efforts to “remake our §2 jurisprudence anew,” by urging the court to hold that maps should be drawn without considering race at all.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh acknowledged an argument made by Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent: the idea that “even if Congress in 1982 could constitutionally authorize race-based redistricting under §2 for some period of time,” it cannot do so indefinitely.

The state returned to the drawing board, and in July the legislature enacted a new plan that once again contained only one majority-Black district. Finding it “substantially likely” that the 2023 map violates the Voting Rights Act because it failed to create an additional majority-Black district or “something close to it,” the lower court appointed two experts to draw a new map.

Alabama came back to the Supreme Court on Sept. 11, asking the justices to intervene quickly. It told the Supreme Court that the lower court had rejected the 2023 map solely because it did not contain a second majority-Black district – which, the state argued, the Supreme Court has said is not required. And citing the court’s recent decisions striking down the consideration of race in university admissions, the state contended that the lower court’s rule “has no logical endpoint,” but would instead require it to “have to continue intentionally creating a second majority-black district in lieu of keeping together” local communities indefinitely.

The challengers urged the justices to stay out of the dispute, comparing Alabama’s failure to draw a second district that gives Black voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice with the southern states’ resistance to desegregation during the civil rights era. And they cautioned that putting the lower courts’ orders on hold will make it “all but certain” that the state will hold the 2024 elections using “an unlawful, dilutive” plan.

In a pair of unsigned orders issued shortly before 10 a.m., the justices turned down Alabama’s request to intervene in the dispute. If any justices disagreed with the disposition of the request, they did not voice that disagreement publicly.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court denies Alabama’s request to use voting map with only one majority-Black district, SCOTUSblog (Sep. 26, 2023, 11:55 AM),