The Supreme Court sided with black challengers Wednesday and told a lower court to reconsider whether a redistricting plan drawn by Alabama’s Republican-led legislature packed minority voters into districts in order to dilute their influence. The court voted 5 to 4 to send the plan back for further judicial review. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the opinion, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided with the court’s liberals to make up the majority. 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.
Breyer said a lower-court panel should have looked at individual districts rather than statewide in order to decide whether there was racial gerrymandering. And he said the legislators and the reviewing court did not use the proper test in deciding whether the redistricting was in line with the Voting Rights Act.
The act forbids “retrogression” in districts that favor minority candidates. But that does not mean the districts must retain a previous percentage of minority voters to meet the standard, Breyer wrote.
What is important instead is looking at what percentages are necessary to preserve the minority’s ability to elect the candidate of its choice, he said. “Asking the wrong question may well have led to the wrong answer,” Breyer wrote.