In a major blow to the Republican House majority, the Supreme Court has struck down Republican–drawn congressional districts in Alabama that civil rights activists say discriminate against Black voters. The 5–4 ruling, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals of the court, is a surprising reaffirmation of the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The ruling means that the Republican–leaning map of the seven congressional districts must be redrawn. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, both conservatives, joined in the majority, alongside the court‘s three liberal justices. Kavanaugh made four main arguments in his writing with the majority, including that the VRA requires a test of effect, not just intent, and that redistricting done via race–based criteria does not violate the US Constitution.
The four other conservative justices dissented, with Justice Neil Gorsuch suggesting that the VRA has now been sent down a “perilous path”. Justice Clarence Thomas had the following to say: “Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population. Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it.”
The implications of the ruling are far–reaching. Republicans only have a slim majority in the House of Representatives, a majority made more tenuous by Rep. George Santos’ recent arrest on fraud charges. Therefore, every district counts and this ruling could be the difference in winning or losing the chamber in 2024.
For Republicans, it means state legislatures are going to have to be more aggressive where they can get away with it. Places like North Carolina and Ohio represent opportunities to redraw seats in favor of Republican candidates. The vote on those moves must be pulled lest a deluge of changes in Alabama and other places overtake the ground gained in 2022.
The ruling is likely to enshrine the precedent that race–based drawing of districts is not unconstitutional. This has potentially wide–reaching implications for future legislation and redistricting processes as any race–based criteria could now be challenged in court with the Supreme Court decision as precedent.
For now, Alabama’s congressional districts will be redrawn, and Republicans must ensure they make the changes necessary to protect their slim majority in the House. However, it appears their efforts may increasingly be tough with the Supreme Court affirming the power of the VRA to combat racial discrimination in redistricting.