Alabama Republicans’ brash defiance of the Supreme Court hit a wall on Tuesday when a federal district court declared that the state’s new congressional maps discriminate against Black citizens in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The decision was entirely predictable given that GOP lawmakers have openly refused to draw districts that comply with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against them. But the opinion is still remarkable for its caustic and exasperated criticism of the state’s legislative leaders for their perfidious yet bumbling efforts to evade a court order. The court’s exhaustive 196-page decision not only shoots down the new, racist maps, but also adds a new layer to the case: This dispute is now largely about the federal judiciary’s authority to enforce its own decisions against states dead-set on eviscerating the voting rights of their Black residents. If Alabama appeals to SCOTUS, the justices will notice this shift. And whenever a state legislature challenges the Supreme Court’s power, you should never bet against the court.
Alabama has ruthlessly attempted to undermine the political power of racial minorities since the end of Reconstruction in 1876; the sad truth is that, in 2023, Black Alabamians have not truly acquired equal citizenship in the state. Its state constitution remained an explicitly racist document designed to preserve “white supremacy,” including Jim Crow and slavery until last year, when voters finally replaced it. No Black Alabamian has won a statewide election since Reconstruction. And in 2021, white Republicans exploited their stranglehold on the Legislature to gerrymander racial minorities into a permanent minority. Although the state is nearly one-third Black, the Legislature’s 2021 maps gave Black voters a majority in just one of seven congressional districts. As a result, white voters controlled 86 percent of congressional districts, while only 65 percent of the state’s population is non-Hispanic white.
Voting rights advocates filed suit against this redistricting plan, alleging a violation of the Voting Rights Act. That law includes a requirement, known as Section 2, that racial minorities maintain equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. In January 2022, based on long-standing precedent, a right-leaning district court sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the state to draw a second “opportunity” district “in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.” (These cases are heard by three judges sitting on a district court, and this panel included two Donald Trump appointees.) The Supreme Court affirmed that decision in June in Allen v. Milligan, a 5–4 opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the liberals. Roberts went out of his way to endorse every aspect of the district court’s opinion, including its mandate for a second “opportunity” district controlled by Black voters. [Continue reading…]