The Voting Rights Act has survived another attack on its existence in a surprise ruling by the majority conservative Supreme Court in June, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Court ruled 5-4 in Allen v. Milligan t hat Republican legislators in Alabama must create a new election district that would allow for the likelihood of a Black Democrat’s election to Congress, reasserting the Act’s principle that minorities deserve fair representation.
The decision is a “massive win for voting and for voters across the country. Black voters in Alabama have long been denied fair representation — and today’s Supreme Court decision in favor of voters marks a landmark moment to move the needle in the right direction,” said Marina Jenkins, executive director of the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
In 1982, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act to protect Black voters’ opportunity to “elect representatives of their choice,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Although civil rights advocates applauded this decision, making the point that if states are allowed to draw their districts to maintain White majorities, then Black people’s voting power would not only be “diluted” but made worthless. The ruling comes as a bit of a shock to most people who support the Act.
This is because Justice Roberts has a long history of criticizing the Voting Rights Act, from opposing amendments to the Act in 1982 as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration, to leading the charge ten years ago to overturn key provisions of the Act. The key provisions required nine states (Alaska, Arizona, and seven Southern states) and select jurisdictions to seek permission from Washington before changing voting rules and election laws. (See Shelby County v. Holder).
Alabama has seven congressional districts. Six of those districts are Republican strongholds, according to the Times.
Taking into account that 27% of Alabama’s population is Black, a three-judge panel last year ruled that the state could create a second compact district in which a Black person could be elected by simply drawing a district that’s “reasonably configured.”
Brett M. Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson all joined Roberts to affirm last year’s decision.
Due to the reluctance of Republican-led states like Georgia, Florida and Texas to draw up voting districts that would increase a Democrat’s chance to be elected, the Allen v. Milligan ruling could change their political landscapes. Furthermore, this ruling will strengthen legal challenges that claim these election maps are denying Blacks and Latinos fair representation.
Because the House of Representatives is so closely divided, the Milligan ruling could possibly shift its balance of power, according to David Wasserman, a U.S. House expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
He tweeted that along with Alabama, new election maps in states like Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia may lead to the “creation of 2-4 new Black-majority districts, netting [Democrats] 2-4 seats.”
Election districts for state legislatures, county boards and city councils will also be affected by the high court ruling.