Black voting rights activists rally in Selma

Activists with Black Voters Matter take part in a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 9, 2022.

(Photo: Black Voters Matter)

Supreme Court Rejects Alabama Bid to Impose Racially Rigged Congressional Map

As the Alabama ACLU noted, the state must now create a second district "where Black voters have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice by the 2024 elections."

In a ruling hailed by civil rights defenders as a "win for Black voters," the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to intervene in a case in which Alabama Republicans are openly defying a federal court's order to redraw the state's racially gerrymandered congressional map.

Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in the case, applauded Tuesday's ruling—in which no justices publicly dissented—as a "victory for all Alabamians" and "definitely a really positive step."

The state's Republican policymakers "basically said if you were Black in Alabama, your vote would count for less," Milligan told The Associated Press. "It was our duty and honor to challenge that."

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) described the decision as "another big win for Alabama's Black voters."

Sherrilyn Ifill, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), called the ruling "huge."

"I am darned near tearful with pride," she wrote on social media. "It takes so much to litigate these cases—often before hostile courts, with opposition that is unprincipled, and with naysayers all around."

The Brennan Center for Justice's Michael Li said in a statement that "after a string of remarkable victories, Black voters in Alabama are closer than ever to winning relief from discriminatory maps."

A 2022 order by a federal district court ruled that a new congressional map approved by Alabama's GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey after the 2020 census diluted Black voting power because it contained just one majority African-American district. The court—which found that the maps violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment—ordered the state to create a new plan with two Black "opportunity districts."

Alabama appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June ruled 5-4 in Allen v. Milligan—with right-wing Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh surprising many observers by joining their three liberal colleagues in the majority—to affirm the lower court's decision.

In response to Allen v. Milligan, Ivey convened a special legislative session to make a new map, which she approved in July, declaring that state lawmakers know "our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups."

Despite court orders, Alabama Republicans' new congressional map—the Livingston Congressional Plan 3—lacked a second majority Black district. The map's sponsor, state Sen. Steve Livingston (R-8), said U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told him that he was "interested in keeping my majority."

A federal three-judge panel consisting of two appointees of former President Donald Trump and one appointee of former President Ronald Reagan subsequently blocked the new map, writing that "we are deeply troubled that the state enacted a map that the state readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires."

Republican Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen then asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the case again. In a brief, Allen lamented that Alabama "has been maligned as engaging in 'open rebellion'" for defying multiple federal court orders. The justices' denial on Tuesday allows an effort to replace the rigged map to continue.

On Monday, a special master appointed by the district court submitted three proposals for a new congressional map in Alabama. One of them will be chosen as the state's map for the 2024 elections. A three-judge panel has tentatively scheduled an October 3 hearing to consider the maps.

LDF president and director-counsel Janai Nelson said on social media that "all maps proposed by the special master would allow Black Alabamians the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice in two congressional districts in the state."

Tuesday's ruling follows the Supreme Court's June decision to allow the redrawing of Louisiana's racially gerrymandered congressional map—a move that will add a second majority-Black district in the Southern state where 1 in 3 residents are African-American.

The ruling also comes amid a battle over Florida's congressional map, drawn by the office of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis—a 2024 presidential candidate—and approved last year by the state's GOP-controlled Legislature. Earlier this month, a state judge ruled that the redistricting plan is an unconstitutional dilution of Black voters' ability to vote for the legislator of their choice and ordered the map redrawn.

The case will now head to the Florida Supreme Court, where a majority of justices are DeSantis appointees.

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