Supreme Court permits Alabama congressional map lower court said could dilute Black vote

John Fritze
  • The high court on Monday did not rule on the merits of the Alabama case.
  • The ruling drew dissents from Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's three liberal justices.

WASHINGTON – A divided Supreme Court on Monday allowed Alabama to rely on a congressional map that a lower court said likely denied Black voters in that state an additional member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican lawmakers in Alabama, a state in which 27% of the population is Black, drew congressional districts following the 2020 census to give Black voters control of one in seven of the state’s congressional seats.

A three-judge federal panel ruled last month that the arrangement likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The nation's highest court has been slowly whittling away provisions included in that landmark 1965 law, including with a ruling last year that makes it harder to bring lawsuits alleging voting discrimination.

The high court on Monday did not rule on the merits of the Alabama dispute but instead blocked the lower court’s requirement that the state redraw its maps before this year’s midterm election. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in explaining his vote, indicated that the ruling maintained the status quo ahead of upcoming primary elections.

"Filing deadlines need to be met, but candidates cannot be sure what district they need to file for," Kavanaugh wrote in an opinion joined by Associate Justice Samuel Alito. "Indeed, at this point, some potential candidates do not even know which district they live in. Nor do incumbents know if they now might be running against other incumbents in the upcoming primaries."

Tourists visit the Supreme Court, Wednesday, Jan., 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) ORG XMIT: WX202

The ruling drew a dissent from Chief Justice John Roberts as well as the court's three liberal justices. 

Associate Justice Elena Kagan said the court’s decision "does a disservice to Black Alabamians who…have had their electoral power diminished – in violation of a law this court once knew to buttress all of American democracy."

As it blocked the lower court's order, a majority of the court also said it would take up the broader questions raised by the case. That dispute, likely to be heard by the court in the fall, could have major implications for how states consider the racial makeup of congressional and state legislative districts.