The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a combined case challenging Alabama’s state legislative districts as an illegal racial gerrymander. The plan’s challengers, including the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference, claim that the legislature intentionally packed black voters into fewer districts to make surrounding districts safer for Republican candidates. A similar case in which a three-judge federal district court panel overturned Virginia’s congressional map as an unlawful racial gerrymander could be impacted.
After the 2010 census, Alabama’s redistricting plan moved about one-sixth of all eligible black voters from majority-white State Senate districts to majority-black districts. In one majority-black State Senate District, the legislature removed white residents who had lived in the district for years and added 16,000 new residents. Only 36 of the 16,000 new residents were not black. The new district became 75 percent black while the percentage of white voters in an adjacent district rose substantially.
Alabama claims that the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against weakening minority voting power and its own goal of keeping population deviations between districts less than two percent required it to maintain at least the same percentage of black voters in each majority-minority district and allowed it to do so by moving black voters into underpopulated districts. A judge dissenting in the lower court’s decision to uphold the districts referred to Alabama’s support for gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder while simultaneously claiming that the law allowed them to pack black voters as a “cruel irony.”
During today’s oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan stated that Alabama had a “mistaken understanding” of Voting Rights Act requirements when it claimed it was required to maintain at least the same percentage of black voters in each majority-minority district. She added that “the numbers speak for themselves” when observing that Alabama clearly used race as the primary deciding factor in drawing districts.
The following parties submitted amicus briefs in this case in support of those challenging the maps:
- Anti-Defamation League
- Brennan Center
- NAACP LDF
- North Carolina litigants represented by Southern Coalition for Social Justice
The following parties submitted amicus briefs in support of the legislature:
- Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate
- Pacific Legal Foundation
- Dalton L. Oldham
The following parties submitted an amicus brief in support of neither party:
- United States
- Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Political science, government, and statistics professors
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections