In a closely watched decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Alabama on Thursday, declaring that the state’s congressional district map had diluted the influence of black voters. The majority of justices upheld a lower court’s ruling, which found that the map violated the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the Republican-drawn map will need to be redrawn.
Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion for Allen v. Milligan (formerly Merrill v. Milligan), joined by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and the three liberal justices. In his opinion, Roberts acknowledged the longstanding concerns about the potential racial implications of the Voting Rights Act but emphasized that the current case did not substantiate those concerns.
“The Court recognizes that reapportionment remains primarily the duty and responsibility of the States, not the federal courts,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] thus never requires adoption of districts that violate traditional redistricting principles and instead limits judicial intervention to ‘those instances of intensive racial politics’ where the ‘excessive role [of race] in the electoral process . . . den[ies] minority voters equal opportunity to participate’.”
Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature had approved the new district map in 2021, which included only one majority black district out of the seven. The challengers, including the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, argued that a second majority-black district should be included.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Samuel Alito dissented from the majority opinion. Justice Thomas, in his dissenting opinion, criticized the Court’s voting rights jurisprudence and argued that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act did not require Alabama to intentionally redraw its congressional districts to achieve proportional representation for black voters.
The Legal Defense Fund’s (LDF) Senior Counsel Deuel Ross presented the oral argument before the Supreme Court in Merrill v. Milligan, LDF’s first case before the Court in six years. Ross weighed in on the Supreme Court case.
“There is nothing race neutral about Alabama’s map. The district court’s unanimous and thorough intensely local analysis did not err in finding that the Black Belt is a historic and extremely poor community of substantial significance,” said Ross. “Yet, Alabama’s map cracks that community and allows white bloc voting to deny Black voters the opportunity to elect representation responsive to their needs.”
“The district court’s unanimous and thorough intensely local analysis did not err in finding that the Black Belt is a historic and extremely poor community of substantial significance. Yet, Alabama’s map cracks that community and allows white bloc voting to deny Black voters the opportunity to elect representation responsive to their needs,” he continued. “Rather than argue clear error, Alabama asks us to ignore statutory stare decisis [precedent] and to rewrite Section 2’s text” by arguing that plaintiffs must demonstrate that Alabama intended to engage in discrimination when it drew the maps for a Section 2 violation to apply.”
The ruling has significant implications for Alabama’s electoral landscape, as the state will now have to revise its congressional district map to address the concerns raised under the Voting Rights Act.