The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument Tuesday regarding Alabama’s redrawn congressional district map, which is being challenged under claims it violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The act, signed into law by former President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibits racial discrimination in the redistricting process.
Plaintiffs allege that the refreshed map, which passed the Legislature last November, dilutes the voting power of the state’s Black residents by including only one minority-majority district. Black Alabamians account for roughly 27% of the state’s population.
In January, a three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama blocked the Legislature’s newly drawn map from going into effect on grounds that it likely violated the law.
Nearly two weeks after the ruling, the nation’s High Court placed on hold the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling allowed the state to proceed with this year’s elections under the redrawn districts and prepare arguments to defend the refreshed map.
In May, the Alabama Republican Party filed an amicus brief with the High Court in support of the state’s ongoing legal arguments.
In a statement, ALGOP attorney Bert Jordan detailed the court’s consideration of oral argument.
“Oral argument today showed a familiar split on the Supreme Court. One group, led by Justice Alito, seemed to believe that the district challengers focused on race too much, at the expense of non-racial factors, in trying to prove that alternative districts would avoid injury to minority voting strength,” said Jordan. “The challengers want an alternative set of districts that will result in blacks controlling Congressional district in proportion to their numbers in the population.
“Justice Alito focused on fine-tuning argument made by Alabama’s Solicitor General Eddie LeCour who urged the Court that the challengers seek too much focus on race in trying to measure the voting strength of racial groups. LeCour said that their reading of the Voting Rights Act puts Alabama in an unfair position in drawing districts – caught between always due to show extra attention to race to overcome its past racial history, and not being racial in its governance going forward.”
Republican-appointed Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, according to Jordan, have indicated that the plaintiffs’ arguments presented “an unmanageable reading” of the law.
“Another group of the judges, perhaps led by Justice Kagan, urged that racial considerations are necessary, and have been used for decades, to correct past injustice and show that blacks are injured by not having control of a proportionate number of reasonably configured districts,” he said. “Yet another group, Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, spoke little but have said they view the effort to measure racial voting strength as an unmanageable reading of the Voting Rights Act.”
Under its current layout, Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), remains the state’s lone black-majority district.
The congresswoman, who was in attendance at the court while argument was made, said the Voting Rights Act was “on life support.”
“We in Alabama are no strangers to the fight for fair representation,” said Sewell. “After all, it was in Selma — almost six decades ago — where John Lewis and so many foot soldiers shed blood on a bridge for the equal right of all Americans to vote. But today, we know that old battles have become new again.
“As the Voting Rights Act of 1965 remains on life-support, states across the nation are racing to restrict voting access to dilute our power and erase our progress. Today, they are taking aim at one of the last remaining provisions of the VRA, Section 2.”
Sewell used the state’s pending case before the Supreme Court to advocate for congressional Democrats’ voting reform legislation.
“Fair representation matters,” she said. “I urge our Justices to do what is right and uphold the protections that our foremothers and forefathers fought so hard to secure. I also urge the Senate to do its job and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the full power of the VRA.”
“While John Lewis is no longer with us, I know that he will is watching from above as we once again strive to bring our nation closer to its highest ideals. It is up to each of us to ensure his legacy lives on.”
Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL