The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled on Monday that Alabama’s Republican-backed map of the state’s U.S. Congressional districts could stay in place while it reviews a legal challenge. A lower court said it likely discriminates against Black voters representation, but the ruling gives an important victory to Republicans as they seek to regain control of Congress in the November 8 midterm elections.
The State legislature previously approved the map delineating the borders of Alabama’s seven U.S. House of Representatives districts.
A panel of three federal judges ruled on January 24 that the map unlawfully deprived Black voters of an additional House district in which they could be a majority, or close to it, possibly violating the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that prohibited racial discriminating in voting.
A 5-4 majority granted a stay of a lower court’s order that found the gerrymandered districts likely violated the Voting Rights Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the three liberal justices in dissent.
The court also said it would take up and decide the Alabama dispute on the merits, with arguments expected in the fall and a decision due by June 2023.
In a written opinion, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the lower court blocked Alabama’s map too close to the 2022 election, with the voting to begin at the end of next month, the majority is disinclined to throw the entire election cycle into “chaos and confusion” by forcing Alabama to come up with an entirely new map in just a few weeks.
Kavanaugh wrote, “When an election is close at hand, 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.” He continued, “It is one thing for a State on its own to toy with its election laws close to a State’s elections. But it is quite another for a federal court to swoop in and redo a State’s elections laws in the period close to an election.”
Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion that the majority’s ruling undermines careful consideration applied by the judges below.
“It does a disservice to the District Court, which meticulously applied this Court’s longstanding voting-rights precedent. And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy,” Kagan wrote in the opinion, which was joined by the other two liberal justices.
Kavanaugh also wrote in his opinion, “The stay will allow this Court to decide the merits in an orderly fashion, after full briefing, oral argument, and our usual extensive internal deliberations, and ensure that we do not have to decide the merits on the emergency docket.” His opinion was joined by Justice Samuel Alito.