October 6, 2022

Voting Rights Case

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared open Tuesday to making it harder to create majority Black electoral districts… The justices heard two hours of arguments in the latest showdown over the federal Voting Rights Act [VRA], with lawsuits seeking to force Alabama to create a second Black majority congressional district. About 27% of Alabamians are Black, but they form a majority in just one of the state’s seven congressional districts.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left worries that the Court will upheld Alabama’s map, and argues that not taking race into account will allow discrimination.

“Black voters control just one of seven congressional districts despite making up nearly a third of the population. The Supreme Court has previously held that such race-based vote dilution is impermissible under both Section 2 of the VRA and the 14th Amendment, so the case should have been straightforward. When faced with this lawsuit, however, Alabama turned those ideas on their heads by insisting that any maps that take any race into account violate the Constitution. In other words, redressing illegal racial discrimination is, itself, illegal race discrimination…

“The problem with this strategy, as [Justice] Kagan immediately pointed out, is that when the Supreme Court took away Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County, it promised that Section 2 would be available to remediate racialized voting measures. When the Supreme Court chipped away at Section 2 of the VRA in Brnovich v. DNC, it glibly promised the law would still be available in cases where states diluted the power of racial minorities’ votes. But now the court has a vote dilution case in Merrill, and that promise has proved hollow…
“[Justice Jackson] cogently explained that the Alabama legislature’s claim in Merrill is itself rooted in a lie. The 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act both explicitly provide for race-conscious measures to remediate historic efforts to suppress Black voters. It is not a race-blind project and it never was; it wasn’t even intended to be. It is race conscious on its own terms, and Jackson read from the contemporaneous reports at the drafting to make that very point.”

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern, Slate

“Alabama argues that the Black voters for the second proposed majority-minority district are spread out, along an east/west line, in what constitutes a ‘Black belt.’ Those familiar with racial geography know that the ‘Black belt’ is not limited to Alabama—it’s a cluster of predominately Black neighborhoods that sweeps from East Texas through to coastal Virginia, and is the result of historical patterns of farming, slavery, and housing discrimination. Alabama argues that grouping together voters living in the parts of the Black belt as it comes through Alabama would not be a ‘compact’ congressional district…

There are many problems with Alabama’s argument… Jackson pointed out that historic housing discrimination explained why the Black voters clustered along an east/west trajectory, and argued that keeping this contiguous community together was appropriate under the Voting Rights Act. Meanwhile, Justice Sotomayor asked probative questions about why Alabama split up communities of color in the central part of the state, but did not split up predominantly white communities spread along the Gulf Coast of Alabama.”

Elie Mystal, The Nation

"If the court’s newest conservatives vote like Roberts, Thomas, and Alito, then the Equal Protection Clause could mean something very different by the end of the court’s term next June. The result could strip the clause of much of its power to remediate racial discrimination and disparities by reinterpreting those efforts as discriminatory in and of themselves…  

That would indeed lead to a color-blind Constitution—blind not in the sense that it is unforgiving of racial discrimination but blind in the sense that it is willfully ignorant of its ongoing role in American society. It is far from certain that the Supreme Court will rule that conscious efforts to overcome racism are as unacceptable as racism itself. But after the boldness it showed last term, anything seems possible."

Matt Ford, New Republic

From the Right

The right urges the Court to uphold Alabama’s map, and argues that congressional districts should not be based on race.

The right urges the Court to uphold Alabama’s map, and argues that congressional districts should not be based on race.

“The new districts resemble the status quo, with one majority-black seat in the southeast… It isn’t 1965 anymore. South Carolina has a black GOP Senator. Georgia has a black Democratic Senator, whose Republican challenger is also black. Reps. Steve Cohen and Rashida Tlaib aren’t black but win majority-black seats. The reverse, black Democrats in majority-white seats, happens, too, such as in Georgia’s 6th. What distinguishes a district favoring black voters, who happen to be Democrats, from a district favoring Democrats, who happen to be black?…

“Further, how much are these dynamics perpetuated if courts read the VRA as mandating racial quotas, more or less? ‘Few devices could be better designed to exacerbate racial tensions than the consciously segregated districting system currently being constructed in the name of the Voting Rights Act,’ Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in 1994. He predicted it would ‘deepen racial divisions by destroying any need for voters or candidates to build bridges between racial groups or to form voting coalitions.’ How right he has been.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Plaintiffs base their demands for a second black-majority district on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which guarantees equal access to the political system for black voters. Unfortunately, they mistake ‘access’ for racial ‘results.’ To make clear its goal is access and not results, Section 2 says, ‘Nothing in this section establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population.’ That statement is clear and direct…  

“In a series of rulings, the Supreme Court repeatedly has ruled that race absolutely may not be the ‘predominant’ factor in drawing district lines. Yet plaintiffs demand that race be the essential factor, ignoring other neutral and judicially approved factors such as geographical features or county borders…

“Mobile County, in the state’s southwest corner, has throughout recent memory been the anchor, in whole, of the state’s 1st Congressional District. Plaintiffs want a gerrymander that snakes down in a bizarre way to gobble up black neighborhoods in Mobile and force them into a different congressional district, along with black areas from all the way across the state. Their thesis, entirely racialist and arguably racist, is that black Alabamans in a coastal county adjoining Mississippi have more in common with landlocked black Alabamans near Georgia than they have with their white coastal neighbors just three streets away from themselves.”

Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

“One of the greatest threats to the American Experiment is our elites abandoning the idea of American identity in favor of racial and ethnic tribalism. Noting is a more straightforward example of this than the idea that the interests of Black or Hispanic voters can only be met by packing them into a congressional district and guaranteeing the election of a member of Congress of that race or ethnicity…

“Let’s face it. The ‘majority-minority’ district interpretation is nothing more than a racial spoils system. It discourages candidates from working across racial or ethnic lines by fencing them into districts where they are part of the majority. To a lesser extent, this interpretation is just a scheme to guarantee Democrats win seats in states where they couldn’t by hiding a partisan gerrymander behind the smokescreen of ‘racial equity.’… This entire impulse is an affront to our history, the Constitution, and a free people.”

Streiff, RedState

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