Supreme Court upholds voting rights law in Alabama redistricting case: NPR

The setting sun illuminates the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 10.

Patrick Semansky/AP


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Patrick Semansky/AP

The setting sun illuminates the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 10.

Patrick Semansky/AP

The US Supreme Court on Thursday He stepped back from the brink The landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act was completely repealed.

By a 5-to-4 vote, a coalition of conservative and liberal justices reaffirmed a 1986 court precedent explaining how legislative districts should be drawn under the historic Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1982. With seven congressional seats and one in four electors black, the Republican-dominated state legislature denied African American voters a fair chance to elect a second representative of their choice.

In addition to redefining how congressional lines are drawn in areas with sizable black populations, the decision could reverberate in other states.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored or joined earlier decisions striking down key parts of the Voting Act, wrote for a majority of the court on Thursday that the Voting Rights Act should be preserved as it has been used for nearly 40 years in Reconstruction cases. He was joined by fellow conservative Brett Kavanagh and the courts’ three liberal justices–Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketenji Brown Jackson.

“Given the court’s recent record on the Voting Rights Act, this is both welcome and surprising,” said UCLA law professor Richard Hassan, who has written extensively on election law.

At issue in the case is Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan, adopted after the 2020 census. The Republican-dominated Legislature drew new district lines that packed a large number of black voters into one congressional district, then spread the remaining black population into other districts, making it less likely that black voters would elect a second representative racially of their choice. polarized state.

A three-judge district court, which included two Trump appointees, found that the state legislature’s plan amounted to an illegal racial discrimination under the Voting Rights Act. On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed.

“We see no reason to disturb the district court’s careful findings,” the chief justice wrote. He added that the Alabama Legislature’s approach to redistricting was “an attempt to reinvent our judiciary” and was wrong “both in theory and in practice.”

Hasan said the decision “gives minority voters a chance to fight for fair representation, as Congress said in 1982, so it preserves the status quo.”

Derek Mueller, an election law expert at the University of Iowa, agrees that a ruling to the contrary would have overturned decades of settled law on what remains a key pillar of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The decision, he said, “speaks to Chief Justice Roberts’ attitude, ‘Look, we’re not going to rock the boat. This is nothing new.’

But as NYU’s Richard Pildes points out, There is A new concept, something he says, may not be embarrassing at first. Bildes, who predicted the case’s outcome cautiously, said Thursday’s decision “does more than vindicate the status quo … because this entire case is based on a new technological development that makes it easier for challengers” to create viable districts to protect their rights under the Voting Rights Act.

In fact, the new technology of computer maps for redistricting based on traditional criteria such as compactness, and keeping districts together, created a redistricting map with the second majority black district in Alabama—which would now make up the second black member. of Congress from Alabama, and may launch a second Democratic Party.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the policy dissent Thursday, a 47-page opinion reiterating his longstanding position that the court “divides the nation into racially segregated districts.” Roberts, in his majority opinion, acknowledged that concern, noting that it is “not new.” But Thursday’s decision “doesn’t stand up here to a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us,” he said.

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