Posted on June 8, 2023

Supreme Court Rejects Voting Map That Diluted Black Voters’ Power

Adam Liptak, New York Times, June 8, 2023

The Supreme Court, in a surprise decision, ruled on Thursday that Alabama had diluted the power of Black voters by drawing a congressional voting map with a single district in which they made up a majority.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion in the 5-to-4 ruling, which required the State Legislature to draw a second district in which Black voters have the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. He was joined by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and the court’s three liberal members, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Voting rights advocates had feared that the decision would further undermine the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark legislative achievement of the civil rights movement whose reach the court’s conservative majority has eroded in recent years. Instead, the law appeared to emerge unscathed from its latest encounter with the court.

The chief justice wrote that there were legitimate concerns that the law “may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power within the states.” He added: “Our opinion today does not diminish or disregard these concerns. It simply holds that a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here.”

Justice Clarence Thomas filed a slashing dissent. The majority’s approach, he wrote, “does not remedy or deter unconstitutional discrimination in districting in any way, shape or form.”

“On the contrary,” he added, “it requires it, hijacking the districting process to pursue a goal that has no legitimate claim under our constitutional system: the proportional allocation of political power on the basis of race.”

In all, he wrote, the majority ruled “that race belongs in virtually every redistricting.”


In a concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that “the authority to conduct race-based redistricting cannot extend indefinitely into the future.”

Justice Thomas responded that his colleague had nonetheless voted “to sustain a system of institutionalized racial discrimination in districting — under the aegis of a statute that applies nationwide and has no expiration date — and thus to prolong the lasting harm to our society caused by the use of racial classifications in the allocation of political power.”


The case started after Alabama’s Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, redrew the congressional map to take account of the 2020 census.

The state has seven congressional districts, and its voting-age population is about 27 percent Black. The new map maintained a single district in which Black voters made up a majority.

That district has long elected a Democrat, while the state’s other six districts are represented by Republicans.

After Black voters and advocacy groups challenged the map under the Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965 to protect minority voters, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Birmingham ruled that the Legislature should have fashioned a second district “in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”


The panel found that voting in the state was racially polarized and that it would be possible to draw “a second reasonably configured district” to allow Black voters to elect their favored candidates.

The court relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars any voting procedure that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race.” {snip}


Justice Thomas wrote that under the lower court’s approach, “Section 2 is nothing more than a racial entitlement to roughly proportional control of elective offices — limited only by feasibility — wherever different racial groups consistently prefer different candidates.”