The conservative-majority Supreme Court docket on Tuesday will hear a serious new case that would additional weaken the landmark Voting Rights Act, enacted to guard minority voters, because the justices contemplate a dispute over Alabama’s congressional district map.
Alabama’s Republican lawyer normal, Steve Marshall, is asking the court docket, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to unravel a long time of precedent on methods to treatment issues that the facility of Black voters is being diluted by dividing voters into districts the place white voters dominate.
It’s one in every of two important election instances the court docket is listening to in its new time period that began Monday, with the court docket set to contemplate later this fall a Republican effort to curb the flexibility of state courts to implement state constitutional protections in federal elections. That might make it simpler for Republican legislatures to limit voting rights.
For the primary time within the court docket’s historical past, two Black justices — conservative Clarence Thomas and liberal Ketanji Brown Jackson — shall be on the bench collectively for a case regarding race points.
The 2 consolidated instances being heard Tuesday come up from litigation over the brand new congressional district map that was drawn by the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature after the 2020 census. The challengers, together with particular person voters and the Alabama State Convention of the NAACP, say the map violated Part 2 of the 1965 voting rights regulation by discriminating towards Black voters. The brand new map created one district out of seven within the state by which Black voters would probably have the ability to elect a candidate of their selecting. The challengers say that the state, which has a inhabitants that’s greater than 1 / 4 Black, ought to have two such districts and supplied proof that such a district could possibly be drawn.
A decrease court docket agreed in a January ruling, saying that beneath Supreme Court docket precedent, the plaintiffs had proven that Alabama’s Black inhabitants was each massive sufficient and sufficiently compact for there to be a second majority-Black district. The court docket ordered a brand new map to be drawn, however the state turned to the Supreme Court docket, which put the litigation on maintain and agreed to listen to the case. In consequence, the brand new map that the decrease court docket had discovered to be discriminatory is getting used on this yr’s congressional election.
The Supreme Court docket was divided 5-4 in permitting the brand new map for use, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts becoming a member of the court docket’s 4 liberals in dissent.
The state argues that the decrease court docket put an excessive amount of emphasis on race in reaching its conclusions. Marshall says in court docket papers that the truth that the challengers have been capable of present that it was potential to attract a second majority-Black district was not adequate proof that the state’s actions have been discriminatory. He cites different conventional “race-neutral” map-drawing components that keep in mind such points as regional tradition and id, in addition to the requirement that districts have similar-sized populations.
“From the beginning, plaintiffs got down to create two majority-black districts,” Marshall wrote. “And the one method they might accomplish that aim was to deliberately kind Alabamians by pores and skin colour.”
The Supreme Court docket has in two instances during the last decade already weakened the Voting Rights Act, starting in 2013 when it gutted a key provision of the regulation that allowed for federal oversight of election regulation modifications in sure states. Final yr, in a case from Arizona, the court docket made it harder to carry instances beneath Part 2.
Attorneys for the challengers say the decrease court docket adopted present precedent, one thing that Roberts famous when he voted towards blocking the choice.
“Alabama has little or no to complain about. As an alternative, they’re asking court docket to vary the regulation,” stated lawyer Abha Khanna, who’s arguing the case.
The case is one in every of three the court docket is listening to within the present time period by which conservative attorneys are pushing what they name race-neutral arguments favored on the suitable as a technique to treatment race discrimination. Within the others, the court docket will weigh whether or not to finish affirmative motion in school admissions and contemplate placing down a part of a regulation that provides desire to Native American households in search of to undertake Native American kids.