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Alabama violated Black voters’ rights, U.S. Supreme Court rules

By Ashton Pittman - Mississippi Free Press

A 5-4 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Allen v. Milligan on June 8, 2023, that the State of Alabama had violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and must draw a second majority-Black congressional district. Chief Justice John Roberts, front-center, wrote the majority opinion. Photo courtesy US Supreme Court

Alabama must draw a second majority-Black congressional district after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that the State violated the voting rights of its Black residents under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.


During 2020 redistricting, the state’s Republican majority drew a map that packed many of the state’s Black residents into a single majority-Black congressional district, leaving the other six congressional districts majority white. More than a quarter of Alabama’s residents are Black.


“A district is not equally open … when minority voters face—unlike their majority peers—bloc voting along racial lines, arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the State, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a nonminority voter,” Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative George W. Bush-appointee, wrote for the court’s 5-4 majority in Allen v. Milligan.


“A district is not equally open … when minority voters face—unlike their majority peers—bloc voting along racial lines, arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the State, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a nonminority voter,” Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative George W. Bush-appointee, wrote for the court’s 5-4 majority in Allen v. Milligan.


Roberts’ ruling comes a decade after his decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That ruling struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had required states with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices like Alabama and Mississippi to obtain preclearance with the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes to voting laws and procedures.


“Is it the government’s submission that the citizens of the South are more racist than the citizens of the North?” the skeptical chief justice asked during the 2013 Shelby hearings.


After the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, southern and Republican-led states enacted a flurry of changes to their voting laws, including Mississippi, which adopted voter ID requirements. Though today’s decision does not restore the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements, it does mean the court is not further weakening the 1965 law as many voting rights advocates had feared based on Roberts’ 2013 ruling.


Along with the chief justice, the majority in today’s ruling included conservative Donald Trump appointee Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the court’s three liberal justices: Joe Biden appointee Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and the Barack Obama-appointed justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.


The four dissenting conservative justices included Trump-appointed justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett; George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito; and George H.W. Bush appointee Clarence Thomas.


In his 50-page dissent, Thomas, who is Black, claimed that the law does not require states to draw congressional districts in which Black voters have proportional representation, “and if it did, the Constitution would not permit it.”


U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland celebrated the ruling in a statement this morning.


“Today’s decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections, and preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on their race,” he said. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”


Garland also called on Congress “to act to provide the Department with important authorities it needs to protect the voting rights of every American.”


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