More Bad News for Voting Rights: Supreme Court to Hear Alabama Case

In a redistricting case, the justices could deal another blow to the Voting Rights Act.

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for photographs in the East Conference Room at the court building Oct. 8, 2010 in Washington, D.C.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for photographs in the East Conference Room at the court building Oct. 8, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Alabama Plays Both Sides of Voting Rights, With Blacks in the Middle

The News: The Supreme Court will consider whether Alabama illegally redrew its legislative districts in a way that weakens minorities’ voting power, taking up the first such case since striking down a section of the Voting Rights Act last year.

Black state lawmakers and other plaintiffs in a pair of cases, which are to be heard in a consolidated argument when the court starts its new session in October, accuse Republican lawmakers of “racial gerrymandering” by packing minority voters into a few districts and preserving heavier white majorities in other districts.

In Alabama, many whites tend to vote for Republicans while blacks tend to favor Democrats.

The black lawmakers argue that the “packing of the majority black districts necessarily increases the political segregation of African Americans and reduces their ability to influence the outcome of legislative elections in the rest of the state.”

A panel of three federal district court judges last year ruled in a 2-1 decision that the redistricting plan was lawful.

The Take: When it comes to blacks voting, the state of Alabama continues to stand in the way.

It was the first state to challenge the Voting Rights Act shortly after its passage in 1965. A case from Alabama last year finally succeeded, convincing the Supreme Court to strike down the law’s Section 5 (pdf), which required states, such as a Alabama, with a history of discrimination, to obtain permission from the federal authorities before changing their voting procedures.

Alabama no longer must clear its voting rules in advance but the Voting Rights Act still prohibits election changes that dilute minorities’ voting rights, as is the question in the redistricting case.

Alabama has tried to have it both ways. Last year the state urged the Supreme Court to strike down Section 5, arguing it wasn’t needed because the state no longer discriminated against minority voters.

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