Supreme Court of the United States


U.S. Supreme Court Lets Alabama Use Electoral Map Faulted For Racial Bias

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let Alabama use a Republican-backed map of the state's U.S. Congressional districts that a lower court found likely discriminates against Black voters, handing an important victory to Republicans as they seek to regain control of Congress in the Nov. 8 elections.

In a 5-4 decision, the court granted an emergency request by Alabama's Republican Secretary of State John Merrill and two Republican legislators to put on hold the lower court's injunctions ordering the state's Republican-led legislature to redraw the map.

Five of the six conservative justices were in the majority, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court's three liberal justices in dissent. The court also said it would take up and decide the Alabama dispute on the merits, with arguments expected in the fall and a decision due by June 2023.

The state legislature previously approved the map delineating the borders of Alabama's seven U.S. House of Representatives districts.

A panel of three federal judges on Jan. 24 ruled that the map unlawfully deprived Black voters of an additional House district in which they could be a majority or close to it, likely violating the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Democrats control the House by a slim margin, making every seat vital in the Republican attempt to win back a majority.

The Alabama dispute reflects an ongoing issue of contention between Democrats and Republicans in a broader fight over voting rights. Democrats have accused Republicans in various states of exploiting their majorities in state legislatures to craft electoral maps that diminish the clout of Black and other racial minority voters while maximizing the power of White voters.

Alabama's legislature adopted the latest map of the state's seven House districts last November. Several lawsuits were filed challenging the map, including by a group of Black voters and another group of voters who sued alongside the Alabama NAACP civil rights group.

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In a written opinion, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the lower court blocked Alabama's map too close to the 2022 election, contravening Supreme Court precedent.

"Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties and voters, among others," Kavanaugh wrote.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan called the decision "badly wrong" and, referring to the Voting Rights Act, said the high court's action "forces Black Alabamians to suffer what under that law is clear vote dilution." Her dissent was joined by fellow liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

"Alabama is not entitled to keep violating Black Alabamians' voting rights just because the court's order came down in the first month of an election year," Kagan added.

In his dissent, Roberts wrote that the lower court "properly applied existing law in an extensive opinion with no apparent errors for our correction."

The action in the case reflects an increasingly assertive Supreme Court since the 2020 addition of former President Donald Trump's third appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, gave it a 6-3 conservative majority. Her appointment changed the court's dynamics by marginalizing Roberts, considered an incrementalist conservative.

The case is among dozens https://www.Reuters.Com/world/us/us-redistricting-legal-battles-that-could-affect-control-congress-2022-02-02 of legal challenges nationwide over the composition of electoral districts, which are redrawn each decade to reflect population changes as measured by a national census, last taken in 2020.

In most states, such redistricting is done by the party in power, which can lead to map manipulation for partisan gain. In a major 2019 ruling https://www.Reuters.Com/article/us-usa-court-gerrymandering/in-major-elections-ruling-u-s-supreme-court-allows-partisan-map-drawing-idUSKCN1TS24Z, the Supreme Court barred federal judges from curbing the practice, known as partisan gerrymandering. That ruling did preclude court scrutiny of racially discriminatory gerrymandering.

The challengers in Alabama accused the legislature of strategically designing the new map to dilute the electoral clout of Black voters by confining their power to a single district even though Alabama's population is 27% Black, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars voting practices that result in racial discrimination.

Section 2 has been the main tool used to show that voting policies discriminate against minorities since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the part of the law that determined which states with a history of racial discrimination needed federal approval to change voting laws.

In a ruling https://www.Reuters.Com/world/us/voting-rights-breyers-future-spotlight-us-supreme-court-2021-07-01 last July in favor of Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona, the Supreme Court made it harder to prove violations under Section 2.

The three-judge lower court panel, which included two appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump and one by Democratic former President Bill Clinton, unanimously blocked the map, saying that voting in Alabama is "polarized along racial lines" and that the white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to defeat Black voters' preferred candidates.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Supreme Court Halts Order Requiring Alabama To Redraw Maps, Signaling Fresh Threat To Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court Monday put on hold a lower court ruling that would have forced Alabama to redraw its congressional maps that disenfranchised Black voters. 

It was a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the liberals in dissent. 

The Court will make a decision on the case challenging the maps in the coming months. It’s a signal that the conservative justices are prepared to further weaken Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The conservative majority did not explain its reasoning in Monday’s order. Justice Brett Kavanaugh did write a concurring opinion, attempting to rebut Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent. 


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“That decision does a disservice to our own appellate processes, which serve both to constrain and to  legitimate the Court’s authority,” wrote Kagan in a scathing dissent. “It does a disservice to the District Court, which meticulously applied this Court’s longstanding voting-rights precedent. And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”

Roberts was milder in his separate dissent, though he pointed out the real world ramifications of the Court’s decision — that the 2022 election will be governed by maps a lower court found to disenfranchise Black voters.

“The District Court’s analysis should therefore control the upcoming election,” he wrote. “The practical effect of this approach would be that the 2022 election would take place in accord with the judgment of the District Court, but subsequent elections would be governed by this Court’s decision on review.”

Alabama had asked the Court to grant a stay after a surprising loss at the hands of a panel of U.S. District judges — two of three of whom are Trump appointees. 

The panel found that the Alabama congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act, and ordered the state legislature to draw a new map where Black voters constitute a majority “or something quite close to it” in two of the seven districts.

In asking the Supreme Court to intervene, the state is arguing, counterintuitively, that drawing a new map with two majority-Black districts would in fact be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, in violation of the VRA. 

The district judges had appointed a special master to draw a map showing that such districts could be crafted in accordance with the legal rules governing these kinds of cases — including that the districts be compact and politically cohesive. The state said that in drawing the map, the expert prioritized race over other traditional barometers of redistricting, making it unconstitutional. 

Alabama is trying to set up a catch-22. The state says that drawing a map based on race is unconstitutional; but to bring a successful VRA vote dilution lawsuit, plaintiffs have to show that a map properly empowering the minority community is possible to draw — requiring drawing a map based, at least in part, on racial composition. 

The only way to draw minority-majority districts, by Alabama’s logic, is if it basically happens by accident. 

If the justices accept this reasoning, it’s hard to see how any voter bringing a claim of minority vote dilution would go about proving it.

“Accepting Alabama’s contentions would rewrite decades of this Court’s precedent about Section 2 of the VRA,” Kagan wrote.

Supreme Court Restores Alabama Voting Map That A Court Said Hurt Black Voters

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated an Alabama congressional map that a lower court had said diluted the power of Black voters, suggesting that the court was poised to become more skeptical of challenges to voting maps based on claims of race discrimination.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Joining the court’s three liberal members in dissent.

The Supreme Court’s brief order, which included no reasoning, was provisional, staying a lower court’s decision while the case moves forward. The justices said they would hear Alabama’s appeal of the lower court’s ruling, but they did not say when.

Both the stay and the decision to hear the case indicated that the court is open to weakening the role race may play in drawing voting districts for federal elections, setting up a major new test of the Voting Rights Act in a court that has gradually limited the reach of the law in other contexts.

The dispute in Alabama is part of a pitched redistricting battle playing out across the country, with Democrats and Republicans alike challenging electoral districts as unlawful gerrymanders. Those challenges have mostly been filed in state courts, meaning the Supreme Court is unlikely to intervene.

Civil rights leaders and some Democrats say the redistricting process often disadvantages growing minority communities. Republican state officials say the Constitution allows only a limited role for the consideration of race in drawing voting districts.

If the court follows its usual practices, it will schedule arguments in the Alabama case for the fall and issue a decision months later, meaning that the 2022 election would be conducted using the challenged map.

Alabama has seven congressional districts and its voting-age population is about 27 percent Black. In the challenged map, Black voters are in the majority in one district. The lower court, relying on the Voting Rights Act, had ordered the State Legislature to create a second district in which Black voters could elect a representative of their choice.

In a concurring opinion on Monday, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said that “the stay order does not make or signal any change to voting rights law.” It was necessary, he wrote, because the lower court had acted too soon before a coming election.

“When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties and voters, among others.”

What to Know About Redistricting and Gerrymandering

“It is one thing for a state on its own to toy with its election laws close to a state’s elections,” he wrote. “But it is quite another thing for a federal court to swoop in and redo a state’s election laws in the period close to an election.”

In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts said the lower court in the Alabama case had “properly applied existing law in an extensive opinion with no apparent errors for our correction.”

Still, he wrote, the Supreme Court’s precedents “have engendered considerable disagreement and uncertainty regarding the nature and contours of a vote dilution claim.”

The correct solution, the chief justice wrote, would have been to agree to hear the state’s appeal — but not to grant a stay in the meantime.

“The practical effect of this approach,” he wrote, “would be that the 2022 election would take place in accord with the judgment of the district court, but subsequent elections would be governed by this court’s decision on review.”

In a separate dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the majority had gone badly astray.

“It does a disservice to the district court, which meticulously applied this court’s longstanding voting-rights precedent,” she wrote. “And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished — in violation of a law this court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”

She added that the lower court had acted well before the next primary election, in late May, and the general election, in November.

“Alabama is not entitled to keep violating Black Alabamians’ voting rights just because the court’s order came down in the first month of an election year,” she wrote.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Kagan’s dissent.

In earlier decisions, the Supreme Court effectively gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had required federal approval of changes to state and local voting laws in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination, and cut back on Section 2 of the law, limiting the ability of minority groups to challenge voting restrictions.

The Alabama case also concerns Section 2, but in the context of redistricting.

Section 2 bars any voting procedure that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race.” That happens, the provision goes on, when, “based on the totality of circumstances,” racial minorities “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

In November, Alabama’s Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, redrew the state’s seven-district congressional map to take account of the 2020 census. It maintained a single district in which Black voters make up a majority.

How U.S. Redistricting WorksCard 1 of 8

What is redistricting? It’s the redrawing of the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. It happens every 10 years, after the census, to reflect changes in population.

How does it work? The census dictates how many seats in Congress each state will get. Mapmakers then work to ensure that a state’s districts all have roughly the same number of residents, to ensure equal representation in the House.

Who draws the new maps? Each state has its own process. Eleven states leave the mapmaking to an outside panel. But most — 39 states — have state lawmakers draw the new maps for Congress.

If state legislators can draw their own districts, won’t they be biased? Yes. Partisan mapmakers often move district lines — subtly or egregiously — to cluster voters in a way that advances a political goal. This is called gerrymandering.

Is gerrymandering legal? Yes and no. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have no role to play in blocking partisan gerrymanders. However, the court left intact parts of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit racial or ethnic gerrymandering.

That district has long elected a Democrat, while the state’s other six districts are represented by Republicans.

After the map was challenged by Black voters and advocacy groups, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Birmingham ruled last month that the Legislature should have fashioned a second district “in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

The unsigned decision was joined by Judge Stanley Marcus, who ordinarily sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton; and by Judges Anna M. Manasco and Terry F. Moorer, both appointed by President Donald J. Trump.

The panel found that voting in the state is racially polarized and that it would be possible to draw “a second reasonably configured district” to allow Black voters to elect their favored candidates.

The panel ordered the Legislature to submit new maps within two weeks and said it would appoint an independent expert to do so if the deadline was not met. Primary elections are scheduled for May.

Alabama officials asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay. They said that the panel’s ruling would result in “massive disruption” of the state’s elections and that “Alabamians will suffer the constitutional harm of being assigned to racially segregated districts.”

“It will result,” they wrote, “in a map that can be drawn only by placing race first above race-neutral districting criteria, sorting and splitting voters across the state on the basis of race alone.” The panel’s ruling, they added, “is premised on the noxious idea that redistricting begins and ends with racial considerations.”

In response, lawyers for Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P. And several voters said there was ample time and no risk of confusion.

“The primary is still over four months away, and the election itself over 10 months away,” they wrote. “No election has ever been held under the challenged plan — so there is no risk of voter confusion.”

In a separate response, lawyers for a second set of voters said that “granting a stay would do a severe disservice to the public interest by rendering unlawful plans functionally immune from challenge during the first election of a redistricting cycle,” signaling to states “that they get a free pass on their plans so long as they delay enactment until it is too late for courts to provide relief.”

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