DemDaily: Alabama v. The Voting Rights Act

July 25, 2023

In a surprise 5-4 decision June 8, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of Black voters in an Alabama congressional redistricting case that tested the strength of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA).

On June 20, Alabama's Republican-controlled legislature defied the court's mandate to create a second majority-Black district by approving a new map with just one such Black-majority district out of seven in a state that is 27% Black. In doing so they violated the Voting Rights Act, again, by diluting the voting power of Black residents.

Their action triggers a renewed battle over the state's political map and shifts the fight back to federal court, with significant ramifications for other state redistricting and voting rights cases and, ultimately, control of the US House, where Republicans hold a narrow lead of 222 seats to Democrats' 213.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provides that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Amendments to the law have gradually eroded its protections, leaving Section 2 as its core foundation.

The Case
Allen v. Milligan centers on a challenge to Alabama's reapportioned map of congressional districts (HB1), drawn and passed by the Republican state legislature in 2021 following the decennial US Census.

Alabama's seven congressional districts have had roughly the same boundaries for the last three decades, with just one majority-minority district. In drawing the new map, the legislature took into account shifts in population numbers, but not in racial diversity, which showed that African American voter representation had increased to 27% of the electorate.

Multiple groups filed lawsuits, arguing the new districts violated Section 2 of the VRA -- and the equal protections under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution -- by packing Black voters into a single district in central Alabama known as the “Black Belt,” while diluting the state’s other Black residents' voting power by reapportioning them into other districts.

Accordingly, plaintiffs sought the creation of a second majority-minority district. In January 2022, a three-judge district court, including with two Trump appointees, agreed with the plantiffs, ruling that the Alabama plan violated the VRA.

SCOTUS sent the state back to the drawing board, ordering it to follow the lower district court ruling that required “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something very close.”

Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen immediately appealed to the US Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in October 2022 and delivered their opinion June 8, 2023.

In the interim, the Supreme Court allowed the challenged Alabama map to be used in the November 2022

Alabama, with its long history of voting rights abuses, was at the center of the Supreme Court's 2013 landmark opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down the preclearance provision under Article 5 of the VRA that required states with histories of discrimination to receive federal approval before adopting maps or enacting voting laws. The ruling ushered in a wave of efforts in states to restrict voting rights.

In Defiance
The new congressional map approved by the Alabama legislature and Governor Kay Ivey (R) last Friday lowers the Black voting-age population threshold in the existing Democratic seat held by Congresswoman Terri Sewell from about 55% to just over 50%, and increases a second district’s Black population percentage to about 40%.

Republicans insist the map, called “Livingston Congressional Plan 3,” gives Black voters the "opportunity" to elect the representatives of their choice as required by the courts.

The same three-judge panel that struck down the previous districts has set an August 14 hearing on the new plan. If they find that it still does not comply with the VRA, the judges could eventually order a special master to draw new lines for the state.

Accepting the new map would reignite multiple legal challenges to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act -- impacting redistricting battles currently playing out in the courts and legislatures in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, among others.

DemList will keep you informed.

DemDaily: Supreme Court Strikes Down GOP Election Doctrine 6/27/23
DemDaily: Supreme Court Upholds Voting Rights Act Foundation 6/13/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: SCOTUSBlog, CNN, CNBC, AP, DemocracyDocket

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