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The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Alabama officials to redraw the state’s congressional map, which would allow for an additional black-majority district to take into account that the state is 27% black.
The decision — which gives minority voters more opportunities to choose their preferred candidate — comes as a surprise to the court’s conservative majority.
Voting rights advocates feared the court would make it harder for minorities to challenge maps under Section 2 of the historic Voting Rights Act.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for a 5-4 majority in favor of the court’s three liberals. Justice Brett Kavanagh cast a fifth dissenting opinion, concurring with key parts of the holding.
“We are content to decline Alabama’s call to change the existing law,” Roberts said.
It’s surprising that Roberts wrote the decision because 10 years ago, the chief justice effectively gutted a separate section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing election laws.
In recent years, Section 2 has played an important role in getting minority voters to fully participate in the political process, especially as they fight against maps that appear to be neutral but are actually racially polarized.
Roberts wrote Thursday that Section 2 “may impermissibly elevate race in the distribution of political power within states and is, of course, not new,” but he said the opinion “does not minimize or ignore these concerns.”
“A faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us does not bear them out here,” Roberts said. Alabama’s argument “runs counter to our precedent.”
“A district is not equally open, in other words, when minority voters face — unlike their majority counterparts — race-based constituency voting that arises in the context of substantial racial discrimination within the state, making the minority vote disproportionate to the vote of the non-minority voter.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, as part of a dissent joined by Justice Neil Kors, asserted that the Voting Rights Act did not apply to redistricting.
“Initially, I would resolve these cases without requiring the federal judiciary to decide the exact racial apportionment of Alabama’s congressional seats,” Thomas wrote, adding that he believed the VRA’s text “focuses on ballot access and counting.” ”
This story is breaking and will be updated.