The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider challenges from Democratic lawmakers who say the Alabama Legislature packed minority voters into a few districts, diluting their voting power. In another case from Alabama last year, the Supreme Court effectively struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which has required permission from the federal authorities before states may change their voting procedures. In a supporting brief, Alabama had urged the court to rule that way. In the new case, the state argues that Section 5 partly justified the legislative maps, which were drawn using data from the 2010 census at a time when Section 5 still stood.
The maps were challenged by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, the Alabama Democratic Conference and other plaintiffs. They said Republican state legislators had engaged in “racial gerrymandering” by paying too much attention to making districts almost identical in population and by making sure that substantial black majorities in existing districts were not even slightly diminished.
A divided three-judge Federal District Court panel last year ruled that the redistricting plan was lawful. Judge William H. Pryor Jr., writing for the majority, said the plan did not deny black voters the right to participate in the political process. He noted that black voters in Alabama were politically active and had been successful in electing their favored candidates in districts where they made up a majority. “Majority-black districts,” he added, “are roughly proportional to the black voting-age population in Alabama.”
In dissent, Judge Myron H. Thompson said “there is a cruel irony to these cases” in light of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby County case.