The Supreme Court on Wednesday wrestled with the role race may play in drawing legislative maps. The issue was an old one, but the case had a novel twist: Wednesday’s challenge came from black and Democratic lawmakers in Alabama who said the state Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts. Justice Antonin Scalia said things have changed in how voting rights cases are litigated. “You realize, I assume, that you’re making the argument that the opponents of black plaintiffs used to make here,” he told Richard Pildes, a lawyer for one set of challengers. The problem with the Alabama districts, Mr. Pildes said, was that the Republican-controlled Legislature had used “rigid racial quotas” in drawing district lines. “Racial quotas in the context of districting are a dangerous business,” he said. “They can be a way of giving minorities faced with racially polarized voting a fair opportunity to elect, but they can also be a way of unnecessarily packing voters by race in ways that further polarize and isolate us by race.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Mr. Pildes’s approach would force lawmakers drawing legislative maps to make an impossible choice.
“They have to hit this sweet spot between those two extremes without taking race predominantly into consideration?” he asked.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. made a similar point.
“Listening to your argument,” he told Mr. Pildes, “it sounds to me that you are just as interested in quotas. You’re just interested in lower quotas.”