The U.S. Supreme Court, in a five to four ruling, has stayed a lower court ruling that the State of Alabama must draw new congressional districts.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) said that the Supreme Court granted the State’s motion, allowing the Alabama Congressional District map as drawn by the legislature in November to stand, for now.
“I’m gratified that the Supreme Court has stepped in to halt the district court’s order, which would have resulted in a congressional map that would have unconstitutionally divided Alabamians based on race,” Marshall said. “As we have explained throughout this litigation, Alabama’s 2021 plan is an ordinary plan that looks much like the plan approved by a federal court in 1992, the plan approved by a majority-Democratic legislature in 2001, and the plan approved by a majority-Republican legislature in 2011.
"Plaintiffs demand a significant overhaul to the map to create a second majority-Black district, but their own experts showed that no such map could be drawn unless traditional race-neutral principles took a back seat to voters’ race. Indeed, one expert used her algorithm to draw two million random versions of Alabama’s map based on race-neutral principles and not a single one had two majority-black districts. That is why each of the plans proposed by Plaintiffs would split Mobile County for the first time ever, to join voters in Mobile with voters as far away as Phenix City, based on race, all while dividing long-recognized communities centered on the Gulf Coast’s unique economy and culture.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the timing was a factor in the decision to block the three-judge court’s order. The order came four months before the primary, which is now 15 weeks away.
“The stay order is not a ruling on the merits, but instead simply stays the District Court’s injunction pending a ruling on the merits,” Kavanaugh wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito.
Kavanaugh wrote that Supreme Court precedents hold that federal courts should not disrupt state election procedures close to the time of an election.
Matt Clark is the President of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty. The ACLL filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court supporting the State of Alabama in dual congressional redistricting cases.
“Chief Justice Roberts dissented from the stay, as did Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer,” Clark said. “Roberts seemed to think that the district court properly applied the Supreme Court's governing precedent, a 1986 decision named Thornburg v. Gingles, which held that the Voting Rights Act sometimes requires drawing congressional districts based on race - despite the fact that the text of the statute doesn't say that and that such a reading is constitutionally doubtful. Chief Justice Roberts seemed to express doubts about Gingles's validity, but he explained that in the meantime he would treat Gingles as valid, deny Alabama's application for a stay, but give Alabama a chance to make its case in full next term (after an election had already taken place).
“ACLL's amicus brief directly attacked Gingles's validity but explained to the Court that it could still rule in Alabama's favor without overruling it. ACLL explained that if the Court found that there was a 'fair prospect' or 'reasonable probability' that the Court would overrule Gingles at the merits stage, then it could issue the stay without overruling Gingles right now.
"In other words, ACLL's amicus brief was designed to give the justices a way around the kind of objection that Chief Justice Roberts raised."
The three-judge panel in the Northern District of Alabama had appointed a special master to draw new districts for the state, but Monday’s decision stays that order.
“Today, the Supreme Court ensured that such a result will not befall the State this year," Marshall said. "We will now have the chance to further brief the case and argue it to the Supreme Court, and we’re confident we will ultimately prevail.”
The lawsuit challenging the map was brought by Evan Milligan, Khadidah Stone, Letitia Jackson, Shalela Dowdy, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, who are represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Alabama, Hogan Lovells LLP, and Wiggins, Childs, Pantazis, Fisher & Goldfarb.
Alabama Democratic Party Chairman State Rep. Christopher John England lamented the ruling.
“Today’s SCOTUS decision means that the canary in the coal mine just died," England said. "If there was ever a time for Congress to act on voting rights legislation, now would be it. Make no mistake, this is not a good outcome.
"Tonight, we will feel the sorrow that comes from watching our forbearers’ hard-won work be wiped out with the stroke of a pen from the shadows. But tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities. And we will fight, work and organize to regain and protect voting rights for Americans of all colors.”
Plaintiff Evan Milligan said, “We are disappointed by today's decision. The fight for fair representation for Black voters in Alabama has been a winding road, generations long. However, during a month set aside to honor Black American history, we are reminded of the strength and dignity displayed by our ancestors who routinely confronted a wide variety of disappointments. We won't dishonor their legacy by putting down the torch they have handed to us. We will continue striving to ensure that our Legislature honors the Voting Rights Act and that Black Alabamians have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. We will continue working so that Black children feel safe making informed choices about who they want to be, and that most Alabamians embrace the connection of their own personal liberties to the fullest freedom of those Black children.”
Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl celebrated the ruling.
"This is a great victory for the Republican Party, the state of Alabama and voters in every congressional district,” Wahl said. “This election cycle had already started, and the Supreme Court agreed with Attorney General Steve Marshall and the Alabama Republican Party’s request to allow this primary to move forward without undue disruption. We want to thank A.G. Marshall and our talented legal team for the hard work that made this possible."
Republicans hold six of the state’s seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
U.S. Reps. Jerry Carl, Barry Moore, Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt, and Gary Palmer’s said they “are concerned that the remedy pursued by the plaintiffs and ordered by the district court will not only disrupt Alabama’s elections but also jeopardize the State’s neutral districting process.”
Alabama’s lone Democrat in the U.S. House, Rep. Terri Sewell, criticized the decision to block the redistricting order.
“Today’s Supreme Court order is yet another blow to the fight for fair Black political representation that is at the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA),” Sewell said in a statement. “The ruling allows the votes of Black Alabamians to be diluted and further undermines Section 2 of the VRA.
To read the ruling, click here.
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