The Supreme Court appeared divided Wednesday over whether Alabama can draw its election map with predominantly black legislative districts that effectively limit racially diverse areas where Democrats can compete. The case could have implications for redistricting across the country, but particularly in the South, where racially polarized voting has produced legislative majorities of white Republicans and significant numbers of black Democrats, but left little room for white Democrats, whose numbers have dwindled in recent decades. It is the court’s first major review of Voting Rights Act requirements since last year’s 5-4 decision scaled back federal enforcement of the 1965 law. Following the 2010 census, the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature resolved to maintain black supermajorities in a handful of districts, over objections from Democrats who believed having racially diverse districts could help white Democrats hold seats.
While Alabama Republicans said they were ensuring that blacks retained the seats they currently held, civil-rights groups challenged the move and accused lawmakers of turning voting-rights laws on their head with the goal of undermining Democratic power in the state.
The high court’s four liberal justices, who dissented from last year’s decision reining in the Justice Department’s power to enforce the Voting Rights Act, appeared sympathetic to the challengers. Conservative justices were more skeptical, but some, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy , sharply questioned both sides.
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