U.S. Supreme Court rejects Alabama’s request to stay redistricting decision
The Guardian or Authority of Law, created by sculptor James Earle Fraser, rests on the side of the U.S. Supreme Court on September 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Getty Images)
The United States Supreme Court Tuesday denied Alabama’s request to stay a lower court decision directing a special master to draw new state congressional maps to remedy Voting Rights Act violations.
The nation’s high court dismissed the request in two one-sentence orders Tuesday morning. No opinions were given with the decision, which could open the door to Alabama having two congressional districts with majority or near-majority Black populations.
Deuel Ross of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, representing plaintiffs who challenged Alabama’s maps, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning, said they were “excited and happy” about the ruling, coming a day after a special master submitted three proposed congressional maps creating two new congressional districts with between 48 and 53% Black Voting Age Population (BVAP).
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“All these maps are better than what Alabama had proposed,” Ross said. “I think we’re still trying to figure out where we land on the three maps that special master’s proposed.”
In statement Tuesday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall criticized the ruling and compared it to voter disenfranchisement and segregation in Alabama’s Jim Crow era.
“If this brazen and divisive commandeering is permitted without even a whisper of concern from other quarters, America’s congressional elections as we know them will never be the same,” the statement said. “We will be grouped together by race alone, with counties and cities split down the middle—the same way that we were so wrongfully segregated once before.”
A spokeswoman for Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen wrote in an email Tuesday evening that Allen would have a statement “upon final selection of a map.” Messages seeking comment were left with Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile and Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, who oversaw the redistricting process in the Legislature.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, one of the strongest critics of the state’s redistricting process, said in an interview Tuesday morning that the decision was a victory for Alabama voters and breathes new life into Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans discriminatory voting practices.
“Many other states should begin the process of taking advantage of the precedent that’s created by this this case,” he said.
The plaintiffs in the case, known as Allen v. Milligan, released a statement Tuesday saying that the battle had been “long and frustrating” but ultimately “rewarding.”
“This additional representation in Congress will undoubtedly change lives, especially for the hundreds of thousands of Alabamians residing in the Black Belt who suffer from lack of healthcare access, job opportunities, and crumbling infrastructure,” the statement said. “We look forward to a new era in our state’s history, in which power is shared and Black voices are heard.”
Abha Khanna, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the Caster case, related to Milligan, said in a statement that “Alabama’s open defiance of the Voting Rights Act stops today.
“While we hope that yet another federal court order will prompt Alabama to rethink their dogged resistance to providing equal political opportunities to Black Alabamians, we look forward to ensuring relief for voters through the court-ordered remedial redistricting process, with our without the state’s cooperation,” the statement said.
A two-year battle
A three-judge panel in 2022 ruled that Alabama’s 2021 congressional map violated the Voting Rights Act by packing Black voters into a single congressional district. The panel, citing the racial polarization of voting in Alabama — where white Alabamians tend to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tend to support Democrats — ordered the state to draw a second-majority Black district or “something quite close to it.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling last June, the Alabama Legislature in July approved a new map that created a 7th Congressional District in western Alabama and Birmingham with a BVAP of 50.65%, and a 2nd Congressional District in southeastern Alabama with a BVAP of less than 40%.
Plaintiffs said that map did not address the court’s orders, and the three-judge panel agreed earlier this month. U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. district judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer ordered special master Richard Allen to draw new maps while accusing legislators of ignoring their initial ruling.
“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” the judges wrote.
The state appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the ruling would lead to “racial stereotyping” and violated their own redistricting principles. Alabama’s attorneys also made efforts to sway Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined most but not all of the court’s decision in June upholding the lower court ruling. The Alabama attorney general’s office frequently cited Kavanaugh’s opinion in a case banning affirmative action in college admissions, suggesting that plaintiffs and the lower court wanted to use “affirmative action” in the redistricting process.
England said Tuesday morning that he was both shocked and not shocked by the Supreme Court decision, citing the court’s rightward turn in recent years and the state’s apparent refusal to follow the lower court order.
“Based on just how bad the state’s legal strategy was, and the arguments were and how the legislative session went, I don’t think they left the court any other alternative but to send a message that we’re not just here to do your bidding,” he said.
The plaintiffs and the state have until Thursday to respond to Allen’s proposals. The state could appeal any decision the lower court makes on a new congressional map.
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