Black voters who challenged a Republican-drawn map of the congressional district in Alabama scored a major victory on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state violated a federal civil rights law that prohibits the racial discrimination in voting.
In an unexpected 5-4 ruling by the Conservative-majority court, the justices decided against further watering down the Voting Rights Act’s protections, something the court had done twice in the past decade.
The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee who led the Supreme Court to restrict and strike down parts of the Voting Rights Act.
“We find Alabama’s new approach in Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] convincing neither in theory nor in practice,” he wrote.
Conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh joined Roberts and the court’s three liberal justices: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Thursday’s ruling upholds a lower court’s ruling that the congressional district’s map should be redrawn. Alabama lawmakers had adopted a newly drawn map to reflect the 2020 census, with only one majority black district, even though black residents make up 27% of the state’s population. The remaining black voters were dispersed among the other six congressional districts.
“In an age of highly polarized voting and highly polarized geography, [voting maps] are fate,” Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman told Yahoo News. “How the cards are drawn determines who wins them in November 80% to 90% of the time.”
Wasserman spoke to Yahoo News about possible policy implications for the 2024 election following the judges’ decision in the Alabama voting rights case. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Cook’s political report changed five House races from strong Republicans to run in the wake of the SCOTUS Alabama decision. What impact will this have on the 2024 elections?
“It’s almost never that the seats go from a solid Republican to a solid Democrat overnight. In this case, it is still unclear which Republican seats will be removed or reconfigured in order to make way for other predominantly black districts,” Wasserman explained.
“But we have moved the geographically most threatened members into the draw column. That doesn’t mean the Democrats are going to win four seats across [Alabama and Louisiana],” he said. “It just means that ultimately one seat in every state will end up in a strong Democratic column. We don’t know which ones yet.
Otherwise, how might the SCOTUS decision ripple beyond Alabama in the 2024 election?
“A federal matter [in Louisiana] was basically put on hold when the Supreme Court took over the Alabama case because they were so similar,” Wasserman told Yahoo News. “It’s pretty simple to draw a majority black second district in Louisiana, so I think it’s very likely.
“The other two states I’m looking at, Georgia and South Carolina, are less clear,” Wasserman said. Both states also have ongoing racial gerrymandering cases.
Why are the seats all in the South?
Southern states are generally made up of white Republican majorities, with large black populations that lean heavily toward Democrats. Southern Republican-dominated state legislatures redrew maps of congressional districts after the 2020 census to maximize Republican seats.
“Political parties always seek to maximize their own power. Until [SCOTUS] decision, the way Republicans in Alabama and Louisiana did it was to pack as many black voters, who are very Democratic, into single districts as possible,” Wasserman said, referring to gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court ruled that the way Alabama’s map was drawn diluted the power of black voters. The ruling reaffirmed Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting practices.
Are there any states where this SCOTUS ruling could net Republicans more seats?
“No,” Wasserman said simply.
What other big implications could this SCOTUS decision have on the 2024 election?
In the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans in North Carolina took control of the state Supreme Court and overturned an earlier ruling by the Democratic-controlled court that the Congressional map of the State of 2022 was the result of partisan gerrymandering.
“The Republicans have a very tenuous position [House] majority and they are very likely to draw a new gerrymander in North Carolina [with a GOP-led majority] to increase their margin and seek to maximize their seats to hedge against losses elsewhere,” Wasserman said. “Now this latest move probably at least partially offsets that. So that’s a game-changer for Democrats.
“This [Alabama] The decision not only has the potential to offset changes in North Carolina, but it could also impact the thinking of Republicans in North Carolina when they go to draw the map later this summer. Republicans might be more risk averse and decide they don’t want to target Democrat from a mostly black district, Don Davis,” Wasserman told Yahoo News.