The Supreme Court seemed divided Wednesday over and perhaps even stumped by a request that Alabama redo its state legislative redistricting plan that challengers said was drawn with too much emphasis on the race of voters. The challenge was brought by black officeholders and Democrats who argued that the state’s Republican leadership packed minority voters into districts that allowed the election of African American officials but reduced their influence elsewhere. The court’s jurisprudence on when race can be used in drawing legislative districts, however, is complex and at times contradictory. And more than one justice pointed out during oral arguments that minority voters used to come to the court to demand that legislatures specifically use race in order to ensure that blacks and Hispanics be represented in government.
Justice Antonin Scalia told Richard Pildes, an attorney representing the Alabama Democratic Caucus, that he was making the same argument “the other side used to be making” when the demand then was for districts that could be won by minorities.
And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said states faced conflicting demands from Congress to make sure that minorities were represented and from constitutional protections against government treating people differently because of race.
Roberts said he sympathized with states trying to find the “sweet spot” between too much consideration of race and too little.