SCOTUS Voting Rights Ruling Stuns 06/09 06:18
This week's Supreme Court decision ordering Alabama to redraw its
congressional districts was seen by many minority lawmakers and voting rights
activists as a stunning victory with the potential to become a major stepping
stone for undoing political maps that dilute the strength of communities of
WASHINGTON (AP) -- This week's Supreme Court decision ordering Alabama to
redraw its congressional districts was seen by many minority lawmakers and
voting rights activists as a stunning victory with the potential to become a
major stepping stone for undoing political maps that dilute the strength of
communities of color.
Hank Sanders, a former Alabama state lawmaker who has long been politically
active in the state, knew there would be a decision since the court heard
arguments in the case last fall. He was not anticipating being happy with the
outcome, given that previous rulings of the conservative-leaning court had
essentially gutted some of its most important provisions.
"I was afraid they were going to go ahead and wipe out section 2," he said,
referring to the part of the Voting Rights Act at stake in the Alabama case.
He was at his law office Thursday in Selma, scene of one of the most pivotal
moments in the Civil Rights Movement, when news of the 5-4 ruling in favor of
Alabama's Black voters was announced.
"It was a surprise that was good for my day," he said.
How the decision will affect similar lawsuits against political maps drawn
in other states is unclear, although voting rights groups say the ruling
provides firm guidance for lower courts to follow.
The court majority found that Alabama concentrated Black voters in one
district, while spreading them out among the others to make it much more
difficult to elect more than one candidate of their choice. Alabama's Black
population is large enough and geographically compact enough to create a second
district, the judges found. Just one of its seven congressional districts is
majority Black, in a state where more than one in four residents is Black.
Similar maps have been drawn in other states, primary by
Kareem Crayton, the Brennan Center's senior director for voting and
representation, called the court's decision "a welcome surprise" and said
challenges to the maps in Louisiana and Georgia were the most similar to the
While it was considering the Alabama case, the Supreme Court had placed a
hold on a lower court ruling in Louisiana allowing creation of a second
majority-Black district. That's now likely to be lifted. A federal judge last
year also ruled that some of Georgia's U.S. House and state legislative
districts likely violated the Voting Rights Act, but he had allowed the
districts to be used in the 2022 elections because it was too close to the
election to redraw them.
Maps in all three states could have to be redrawn for the 2024 elections.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement that the
court's action reaffirmed his own belief that Louisiana's map, which was drawn
by the Republican-controlled Legislature, violated the law.
"As I said when I vetoed it, Louisiana's current congressional map violates
the Voting Rights Act," he said. "Louisiana's voting population is one-third
Black. We know that in compliance with the principles of the Voting Rights Act,
Louisiana can have a congressional map where two of our six districts are
Rep. Troy Carter, a Black Democrat representing Louisiana's lone district
that is majority Black, said the Legislature should immediately convene to draw
a second majority-minority district.
"This Supreme Court ruling is a win not just for Alabamians but for
Louisianans as well," Carter said in an emailed statement. "Rarely do we get a
second chance to get things right -- now Louisiana can."
In Georgia, Bishop Reginald Jackson, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits
challenging the state's congressional map, said he was ecstatic when he heard
the news about the ruling and hopes it will boost their case.
He said he became involved in the lawsuit amid concerns that the state's
Black population had increased while the number of Black congressional
representatives had decreased with the last round of redistricting.
"So how could you have less Black representation when you have more Blacks
moving into the state than before?" said Jackson, who presides over 534 African
Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia with over 90,000 parishioners
The Alabama case, along with pending lawsuits in Georgia and Louisiana,
means Black voters will likely have an opportunity to elect candidates in three
additional districts, said Marina Jenkins, executive director of the National
Redistricting Foundation, one of the organizations that has spearheaded voting
rights challenges in the states.
She said litigation in Texas by other plaintiff groups could mean additional
seats there where minority voters "have the opportunity to elect candidates of
their choice that don't exist now."
Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, a Democrat who chairs the Mexican
American Legislative Caucus, said the case was a "major win for voting rights."
She said following recent decisions by the current court in other areas she
considers fundamental, such as last year's overturning of the constitutional
right to abortion, she was concerned about the direction the justices would
take with voting rights and was relieved to see Thursday's outcome.
"As we are seeing the Latino community rise in many ways, we want to ensure
that Latino power is translated into Latino political power," Neave Criado said.
Latinos and whites share an equal proportion of the Texas population, about
40% each, according to 2022 Census figures.
Nina Perales, vice-president of litigation with the Mexican American Legal
Defense and Educational Fund, said the ruling closes the door on Texas using
arguments similar to those made by Alabama as the cases there go forward.
Perales leads the litigation for a similar case out of Texas, which is based on
the redistricting maps created in 2021.
In addition to the Voting Rights Act challenge to Texas' congressional
districts, similar section 2 claims have been brought against numerous voting
districts used for state legislatures and local governments around the country.
Attorney Mark Gaber argued a case this week alleging Washington's state
legislative districts diluted the voting strength of Hispanic residents and
will be arguing a similar case next week involving Native Americans and North
Dakota's state legislative districts. He thinks Thursday's ruling will
strengthen the case.
In Alabama, the question is what happens next. Steve Marshall, the state's
Republican attorney general, said in a statement that he expects to continue
defending the challenged map in federal court, including at a full trial.
The Rev. Murphy Green, a resident of Montgomery, said he is just glad to get
to the first step with the court decision.
"I was surprised, especially when I think of the makeup of the court," he
said, praising God for sending the Legislature back to "the drawing board and
making it mandatory that they create a second Black congressional district."
He said the five Supreme Court justices in the majority must have looked at
the map and the state's population and decided "it looked ridiculous to those
judges, as well."
Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democrat in Alabama's congressional delegation,
said she expects the case will be sent back to the three lower court judges who
unanimously agreed the lines drawn by the Legislature likely violated the
federal law. Sewell, who is Black, fully expected the new districts to be in
place in time for the 2024 elections.
Whatever the process for drawing the new lines, "They're going to have to
follow the ruling of the court," she said, noting that a revamped congressional
map would also mean her district is redrawn.
"It's a small price to pay to carve up my district in order to be able to
have two majority minority districts," she said.