This fall, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature created new election districts that illegally packed Black voters into too few districts in order to dilute Black political power.
Like Republican-led state legislatures across the South, after Republicans gained majority control of Alabama’s legislature, they created a new map in 2012 that increased the concentration of Black voters in a few districts to more than 75 percent. The redistricting makes it harder to elect white Democrats outside the “super-majority” Black districts, leading to the election of fewer white Democrats and more Republicans in other districts.
The purpose and effect of the State’s redistricting plan, wrote the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) in its brief to the Court, was to reduce Black voting strength in terms of districts, to reduce the strength of Black minority populations in majority-white counties, and to prevent coalitions among Black, Hispanic, Native American, and white Democrats.
“[P]acking of the majority Black districts necessarily increases the political segregation of African-Americans,” the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus argues, “and reduces their ability to influence the outcome of legislative elections in the rest of the state.”
The State of Alabama responded that it was merely complying with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by ensuring that the new map did not reduce the number of majority-Black districts. But the Alabama Democratic Conference argues Republicans cynically relied on race to gain a partisan advantage. Population changes would have meant more Black voters in other districts if Republicans had not packed Black voters into the same number of majority-Black districts as the old map contained. The new plan was “an unconstitutional racial gerrymander,” they wrote in a brief to the Court, “in the sense that those who drew the map did so based on race to an unconstitutional and unjustified degree.”
The State of Alabama succeeded last year in persuading the Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act, which for five decades has blocked voting discrimination by requiring approval from federal authorities before voting laws can be changed. Section 5 contains the “preclearance requirement” and Section 4 contains the formula that determines which states must obtain preclearance. One year ago today, in Shelby County v. Holder a majority of the Court agreed with Alabama and struck down Section 4, making Section 5 meaningless.
In dissent from the federal district court’s decision providing “preclearance” for Alabama’s redistricting plan, Judge Myron H. Thompson noted the “cruel irony” of the State’s position: “Even as it was asking the Supreme Court to strike down Section 5 because it failed ‘to speak to current conditions,'” he wrote, “the State of Alabama was relying on racial quotas with absolutely no evidence that they had anything to do with current conditions, and seeking to justify those quotas with the very provision it was helping to render inert.”
The cases, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. State of Alabama, No. 13-895, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, No. 13-1138, will be heard and decided in the court’s next term, which starts in October.