In a 5-4 decision Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court restored an Alabama congressional map which a lower court had ruled violated black Alabamians’ right to representation. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s 3 liberal members in dissent.
According to New York Times reporting, “Both the stay and the decision to hear the case indicated that the court is open to weakening the role race may play in drawing voting districts for federal elections, setting up a major new test of the Voting Rights Act in a court that has gradually limited the reach of the law in other contexts.
The court’s action likely pushes the fate of Alabama’s congressional map past the current midterm election cycle, meaning Black voters, who make up about a quarter of Alabama’s voting age population, will be in the majority in just 1 of Alabama’s 7 congressional districts for the midterm.
According to Justice Kavanaugh, the court’s decision to uphold the map was a matter of timing. “When an election is close at hand,” Kavanaugh wrote, “the rules of the road must be clear and settled. Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties and voters, among others.”
However, in his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts said that the lower court in Alabama had “properly applied existing law in an extensive opinion with no apparent errors for our correction.”
The Alabama case is part of a larger question around partisan gerrymandering playing out in states across the country. Just a week earlier, New York State passed a congressional map which limited representation for conservatives so dramatically that it drew the ire even of some Democrats. Meanwhile the North Carolina Supreme Court threw out that state’s recently redrawn congressional maps on the basis of being too partisan.