Lawyers for Alabama voters urged the justices to stay out of a dispute over the state’s congressional map. Eight days after the state asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block lower-court rulings holding that a map drawn earlier this year likely violates the Voting Rights Act, the voters told the justices that the state’s appeal evokes “our unfortunate history of States resisting civil rights remedies through ‘laws and practices which, though neutral on their face, serve to maintain the status quo.’”
Tuesday’s filings were the latest in the ongoing dispute over efforts in Alabama to draw new congressional maps in the wake of the 2020 census. Nearly 27 percent of the state’s residents are Black, but the seven-district map that the state’s Republican-controlled legislature enacted in 2021 had only one majority-Black district. In January 2022, two federal courts agreed that the 2021 map likely violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in voting. The Supreme Court put that decision on hold in February 2022, clearing the way for the state to use the map in the November 2022 elections, but in June the court upheld the rulings in favor of the challengers.
Alabama enacted a new map in July, once again with only one majority-Black district. The lower courts agreed with the challengers that the 2023 plan also likely violated the Voting Rights Act and appointed an expert to draw a new map.
Alabama came to the Supreme Court on Sept. 11, asking the justices to step in again. The voters urged the justices to reject the state’s appeal and leave the lower-court rulings in place. Election officials and legislators “are free to make whatever arguments they wish to the” court-appointed experts “about their preferred redistricting criteria for formulating the final remedial map,” the challengers wrote. But they can’t “pretend this motion is something other than what it is: a request to defy this Court’s decision by implementing a ‘remedy’ that cures nothing and prevents Black voters from having an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in a second congressional district.”
The voters rejected the state’s contention that the lower courts should have upheld the 2023 map because it served other priorities – such as protecting incumbents and keeping local communities in southern Alabama intact. If the court defers to those goals, the voters say, they will effectively never be able to challenge a map, because the state can keep moving the goalpost by coming up with new priorities.
The voters also pushed back against the state’s argument that Section 2 has “no logical endpoint.” Although the court should not consider the argument at this point because it is a new argument, the voters insisted, there are in fact safeguards to ensure that it does not continue in perpetuity. For example, they noted, as residential segregation decreases, it will become harder to draw compact majority-minority districts.
The voters cautioned that putting the lower courts’ orders on hold will make it “all but certain” that 2024 elections will use “an unlawful, dilutive” plan.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.