The US Supreme Court has rejected an emergency request from Alabama to block a lower court order that requires the state to redraw its congressional map to create a second district with a majority of Black voters. The decision, issued on Tuesday, September 26, 2023, is a victory for voting rights advocates who argued that the current map dilutes the political power of Black residents in the state.
A 5-4 ruling in favor of voting rights
The Supreme Court’s one-line order did not provide any explanation for its denial of Alabama’s appeal, but it indicated that the court’s conservative majority did not agree with the state’s arguments. The order reflects the court’s previous ruling in June, when it affirmed a lower court decision that found the state’s map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
The lower court, a three-judge panel of the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, had ordered the state to redraw its seven-seat congressional map to include a second majority-Black district or “something quite close to it” by October 1, 2023. The court said that the state had intentionally packed Black voters into one district, the 7th, which is currently represented by Democrat Terri Sewell, the only Black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation. The court said that this practice reduced the ability of Black voters to elect their preferred candidates in other districts.
The state appealed the order to the Supreme Court, arguing that it had followed the principle of “one person, one vote” and that creating a second majority-Black district would violate the constitutional rights of white voters. The state also claimed that the lower court had imposed a quota system that required a certain percentage of Black voters in each district.
The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision
The Supreme Court’s decision means that Alabama will have to comply with the lower court’s order and submit a new map by October 1, 2023. The new map will likely result in a more competitive and diverse congressional delegation, as the state will have to create a second district that reflects the 27% Black population of the state. The new district could also increase the chances of electing a Democrat, as Black voters tend to favor the Democratic Party.
The decision also has implications for other states that are undergoing redistricting, the process of drawing new political boundaries based on the latest census data. The decision signals that the Supreme Court will not tolerate racial gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating district lines to favor or disfavor a certain group of voters. The decision also reaffirms the importance of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which has been challenged by several states in recent years.
The decision is a rare win for voting rights advocates, who have faced a series of setbacks from the Supreme Court in the past decade. In 2013, the court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing their election laws. In 2018, the court declined to intervene in partisan gerrymandering cases, leaving the issue to the states. In 2021, the court upheld two Arizona laws that restricted voting access, making it harder to challenge such laws under Section 2.