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SUPREME COURT

What does the SCOTUS ruling on Alabama’s district gerrymandering mean for the 2022 mid-term elections?

The Republican-backed proposal had been blocked by a lower federal court due to concern that the electoral districts did not fairly reflect the state's racial composition.

Update:
The Republican-backed proposal had been blocked by a lower federal court due to concern that the electoral districts did not fairly reflect the state's racial composition.
JOSHUA ROBERTSREUTERS

The Supreme Court has ruled that Alabama can implement a Republican-backed map of the state’s congressional districts despite a lower federal court previously finding that the proposals are likely to discriminate against Black residents.

The ruling was delivered on Monday after a 5-4 decision which saw five of the Court’s six conservative justices vote to allow the redrawn map to stand. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberal justices dissented.

The ruling represents a major victory for the Republicans ahead of the mid-term elections on 8 November, allowing them to gerrymander the state map with just one majority-Black congressional district. In the 2020 presidential election the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, won 92% of the Black vote nationally.

The Republicans are confident of breaking up the Democrat’s unified control in Washington later this year and believe that both Houses of Congress are within reach. The Democrats currently hold a ten-seat majority in the House of Representatives, meaning that the GOP would need to flip just six of the 435 districts to retake the House.

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Supreme Court blocks racial discrimination ruling

On 24 January three federal judges in the state of Alabama ordered state legislators to redraw their proposed congressional map, asking them to ensure that at least two of the state’s seven districts are likely to elect Black representatives.

The state has a Black population of 27% and the federal court ruled that the proposed map threatened to minimise their voices, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act which protects against racial discrimination.

In their ruling, the three-person panel argued that the proposed map meant that “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”

However in today’s decision a majority of the Supreme Court justices agreed that federal courts should not become involved in disputes about state’s voting practices unless strictly necessary. For now the Supreme Court has simply allowed the state’s district map to be implemented while they wait to hear arguments on the case in the future.

“When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted to reinstate the gerrymandered district map, wrote. “Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties and voters, among others.”

However the liberal Justice Elena Kagan argued that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Alabama district map to stand "forces Black Alabamians to suffer what under that law is clear vote dilution."

This case of one of dozens of ongoing legal challenges to electoral districting maps, which could well be a deciding factor in who controls Congress as the mid-terms in November.

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