After years of court rulings tarnishing the Voting Rights Act, a ruling in an Alabama reclassification case confirms the power of the 56-year-old law — and gives Democrats and civil rights groups hope to reclaim gerrymandered cards.
The decision of three federal judges ordered state legislators to rework their newly signed congressional cards. The Republican-led legislature has violated the Voting Rights Act, the judges ruled, by not drawing more than one congressional district where black voters could elect a representative of their choice.
Alabama Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall quickly appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Tuesday, seeking a motion to suspend the ruling.
Still, the unanimous ruling — signed by two judges appointed by former President Donald J. Trump and one by former President Bill Clinton — was a sign that an important weapon against racial discrimination in reclassification could still be potent, even if other elements of the milestone The Voting Rights Act has been eroded by Supreme Court rulings. The case revolved around section 2 of the law, which prohibits racial discrimination in election procedures.
A similar case is already pending in Texas, and the success of the challenge in Alabama could open the door to lawsuits in other states such as South Carolina, Louisiana or Georgia. It can also serve as a warning to states like Florida that haven’t signed their maps yet.
“The Supreme Court has cut back on the tools we in the voting community must use to deal with misconduct by government agencies and bodies,” said Eric Holder, a former U.S. Attorney General who now chairs the National Democratic Redistricting. Commission. “Section 2 has remained pretty much intact so far.”
The court ruling in Alabama — where black residents make up 27 percent of the population, but black voters have a majority in just one of the seven House districts — comes amid a polarized realignment cycle, in which both Republicans and Democrats have tried to anchor political power through district lines for congressional and legislative maps. In much of the country, that has created districts that bisect neighborhoods or curl around counties to get the best possible advantage.
Civil rights leaders and some Democrats argue that the process too often comes at the expense of growing minority communities. Black and Hispanic voters have a history of being “packed” into individual congressional districts or split among several to reduce their votes.
In 2013, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, eroding a core provision in Section 5. department before making changes to voting procedures or redrawing cards. Last year, the court ruled that Section 2 would not protect against most of the new voting restrictions passed since the 2020 election.
Marshall, the Attorney General of Alabama, argued that the only way to create two majority districts in the black Congress is to make race the primary factor in drawing cards, calling the court’s ruling “an unconstitutional application of the law.” Voting Rights Act”.
“The order requires that race be used at all times, in all places and for all districts,” Marshall wrote in his appeal Tuesday. “Based on Alabama’s political geography and the wide distribution of Black Alabamians, it is essentially impossible to draw a map as presented by plaintiffs unless traditional district principles give way to race.”
The case will most likely move to the Supreme Court, where Justice Clarence Thomas has already indicated that he does not believe Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prevents racial gerrymandering, a question the court did not answer when it reviewed other elements of the law.
The Alabama decision is the second this month in which a court has invalidated a Republican-signed congressional map. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that state legislative and congressional maps signed by Republicans violated a state law ban on partisan gerrymandering. The North Carolina Supreme Court has postponed the state’s primaries while relying on Republican-signed cards there.
How US reclassification works
Republicans argued that the Alabama case, along with Democrat-led lawsuits challenging the GOP-signed maps in other states, are merely attempts to add Democratic seats to Congress and the state legislature.
“This case is not about increasing minority representation, this case is about democratic representation,” said Jason Torchinsky, the chief attorney for the National Republican Redistricting Trust. “It’s a cynical manipulation of the Voting Rights Act to get there.”
In the expansive 225-page opinion, the three judges undermined Republican defenses of cards used in lawsuits across the country.
In some states where Republicans have controlled the levers of redistricting, including North Carolina, Texas, Ohio and Alabama, lawmakers have stated that they did not consider demographics, including racial data, when drawing the maps. But the judges ignored claims that this “race-blind” map drawing protects the trial from claims of racial bias.
“The reason Section 2 is such a powerful statute is because the impact test doesn’t give you two digits on what your intent is,” said Allison Riggs, the co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a civil rights group.
Reclassification attorneys said that view could reverberate in other cases, including Texas.
“Alabama, like Texas, tried to claim that it didn’t appear race until the map was fully drawn,” said Chad Dunn, a Democratic attorney who specializes in reclassification and is involved in the Texas lawsuit. “That explanation is simply not credible. Defending the ostrich with its head in the sand in states with extensive histories of Voting Rights Act violations is not going to work.”