The Republican-led state of Alabama has come under critical fire from Democrats over its redrawn congressional district map in which only one of the state’s seven districts contains a majority of black voters, despite black voters making up more than a quarter of the state’s population.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the matter on Tuesday, and an initial analysis of what was said suggests that the court’s Republican-appointed majority will ultimately side with the state and uphold its congressional district map, Fox News reported.
Challengers have asserted that, due to the size and disbursement of Alabama’s black population, it should have at least two black-majority districts, and have further claimed that the current map violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Voting Rights Act at issue
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, now codified as 52 U.S.C. Sec. 10301, states that “No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
“A violation of subsection (a) is established if, based on the totality of circumstances, it is shown that the political processes leading to nomination or election in the State or political subdivision are not equally open to participation by members of a class of citizens protected by subsection (a) in that its members have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice,” the statute adds.
That has been interpreted by some, including a federal district court in this particular case, as requiring states to craft majority-minority districts wherever possible in order to ensure that the voting power of said minorities is not “diluted” or diminished by being either too compacted in one district or spread out across multiple districts in numbers too small to effectively elect their candidates of choice.
In response to those assertions, however, Fox News noted that Alabama has argued that it should be allowed to take a “race-neutral” approach to redistricting and should not be compelled to “sort voters by race” or consider racial demographics as a deciding factor in how district maps are drawn.
Case will likely result in predictable partisan split
SCOTUSblog reported that the Supreme Court had already begun to address this case involving Alabama’s congressional map when it ruled in February to temporarily block the district court’s ruling that the new map drawn in 2021 likely violated the VRA and should be redrawn to include at least one additional majority-minority district.
That ruling in February meant that the new district map — which in reality is remarkably similar to Alabama’s previous map that also only included one majority-black district — would be in effect for the 2022 midterm elections, and after the oral arguments on Tuesday, it will likely continue to be in effect for the remainder of the decade.
The three Democrat-appointed justices on the high court rather predictably sided with the Democratic challengers to Alabama’s district map and keyed in on race and the VRA in their questions and commentary.
The Republican-appointed justices, however, largely appeared to side with Alabama in terms of their own questions and commentary, particularly with regard to ways in which “race-neutral” maps could be fairly drawn, such as with computer simulators using special algorithms.
A final decision from a likely split Supreme Court will eventually be issued later in the court’s new term that just began this week, though not until after the upcoming midterm elections are held next month.