June 8, 2023: In a surprising decision, the United States Supreme Court, which is mainly conservative-leaning, has ruled in favor of Black voters in Alabama. The court found that the Republican-drawn districting map in the state was likely discriminatory.
With a narrow 5-4 majority, the court concluded that the congressional map, which included only one majority Black district out of seven, violated the Voting Rights Act. This landmark civil rights-era legislation aimed to prevent racial discrimination in voting, mainly stemming from the Jim Crow era.
This ruling is significant because it could have further weakened the Voting Rights Act, which has faced several challenges in recent years. In 2013, a Supreme Court decision struck down a law provision requiring states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain federal approval for new laws and procedures.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) praised the Supreme Court’s ruling as a significant victory for Black voters in Alabama. The ACLU argued that the challenged map diluted Black political power by concentrating their voting influence in one district and preventing a majority in other districts.
During the legal proceedings, challengers of Alabama’s map contended that it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which addresses racial bias in voting practices, even without proving racist intent. The Supreme Court agreed, stating that Alabama’s Black population was sizable and geographically concentrated enough to warrant the creation of a second district.
The state of Alabama appealed the lower court’s ruling and argued that drawing a second district to enhance Black voters’ representation would be discriminatory. They claimed that the current map was “race-neutral” and that a second district would disadvantage other voters.
In October, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson challenged the argument that race should not be a factor in redistricting. She highlighted that constitutional amendments following the Civil War provided a legal basis for legislation to achieve equality for individuals with fewer rights and opportunities.
Redistricting is tied to partisan politics, as states redraw their district boundaries based on population changes every ten years. In most cases, the party in power does this redistricting, leading to allegations of gerrymandering for partisan advantage.
As the Republican party dominates Alabama’s state legislature, creating a new district with a substantial Black population, though not necessarily a majority, could potentially result in the state sending a second Democrat to the US House of Representatives.