October 4, 2023

The Voting Rights Act survives in the US Supreme Court, but more challenges lie ahead

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Supreme Court has unexpectedly deferred a groundbreaking law banning racial discrimination in voting after its protections were rolled back over the past decade, but more challenges to the Voting Rights Act seem certain based on actions by Republican lawmakers in countless states.

Conservative justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberals on Thursday in a 5-4 ruling declaring that an electoral map drawn by Republicans in Alabama weakened black voter influence in violation of the Voting Rights Act . The court’s conservatives had reversed protections under that 1965 law in two previous rulings since 2013.

Suffrage expert Ned Foley of Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law called the ruling “a hugely important development for both the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court more broadly.”

“It shows that Roberts and Kavanaugh are open to moderation in some important cases, while the four others to their right are not,” Foley said, referring to conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch .

The decision requires Alabama to draw a second district of the U.S. House of Representatives where black voters form a majority or are close to it. On the invalidated map, six House districts in Alabama had white majorities — and only one black majority — despite black people making up 27% of the state’s population.

“It wasn’t just a victory for Alabama, it was a victory for democracy itself,” Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s lone Black House Democrat, told reporters.

Constituencies are redrawn every decade – a process called redistricting – to reflect changes in population as measured by a national census.

Thursday’s ruling could have implications for other legal challenges to election maps prepared by Republicans. Marc Elias, a Democratic election attorney, said it likely means lawsuits challenging a Louisiana congressional map could move forward.

The Supreme Court last year reinstated a Republican-drawn map of Louisiana’s six U.S. House districts that was blocked by a judge who found it likely discriminated against black voters. The Supreme Court similarly last year allowed Alabama’s map to be in effect for the November 2022 congressional elections, to be struck down this Thursday.

Louisiana prosecutors said in their lawsuit that the map drawn by Republicans maximizes “political power for white citizens” by concentrating large numbers of black voters in a single district and distributing the rest among the five others where they are underserved. to choose their preference. candidates.

“The situation in Louisiana is a direct reflection of that in Alabama,” said Elias.

The Voting Rights Act was passed at a time when Southern states, including Alabama, were enforcing policies that prevented black people from voting. Nearly six decades later, the Supreme Court is still hearing cases involving black voters suing over election cards they believe diminish their influence.

Thursday’s ruling focused on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision aimed at countering measures that lead to racial bias in voting, even where there is no racist intent.

Alabama officials had argued that drawing a second house district to give black voters a better chance of choosing their preferred candidate would itself be racially discriminatory by favoring them at the expense of other voters. According to Alabama, if the Voting Rights Act required the state to consider race in such a way, the statute would violate the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Wider efforts to limit access to voting have increased in recent years.

According to the New York University Law School Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting laws across the country, at least 12 states, almost all led by the Republicans, enacted 23 restrictive voting laws or measures last year that put them at risk of partisan interference in the electoral process.

“Alabama tried to rewrite federal law saying there was no place for race redistribution. But because of the vile, well-documented and persistent pattern of racial discrimination in the state, Alabama must take action to remedy this discrimination and ensure that communities of color are not left out.” the election process,” said Deuel Ross, one of the attorneys representing a group of plaintiffs in the Alabama case.

“While the Voting Rights Act and other important protections against discriminatory voting laws have been weakened in recent years and states continue to pass provisions to disenfranchise black voters, (Thursday’s) decision is a recognition of the purpose of Section 2 to prevent voting discrimination. and the very fundamental right to a good shot,” Ross added.

Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama, praised Thursday’s decision, but said: “History shows that lawmakers will throw many more hurdles before every Alabamian, regardless of race, can vote for representatives who their beliefs, values ​​and priorities.”

“From Montgomery to Jackson to Baton Rouge and elsewhere around the country, efforts continue to minimize, marginalize and eliminate black and brown people’s ability to have a voice in their communities,” Faulks added. .

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Will Dunham)

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