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Supreme Court Justices Query Alabama’s Argument To Gut The Voting Rights Act


Six Supreme Court justices, each liberal and conservative, didn’t immediately buy the case made by the state of Alabama that the court should overturn 40 years of precedent and gut the Voting Rights Act during arguments within the case of Merrill v. Milligan on Tuesday.

In questioning Alabama’s argument, it appeared possible that the court’s conservatives may stop in need of explicitly gutting the Voting Rights Act, as Alabama requested in its transient but as an alternative effectively gut it by making it even harder to prove that a racial minority constitutes a geographically compact community.

The case hinges on whether or not states must take race into limited consideration to find out if their legislative district maps are allowed under the Voting Rights Act.

The court heard the case after Black Alabamians, representing 27% of the state population, sued the state after Republicans drew a congressional district map with just one Black majority seat out of seven. They argued that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act demanded that Alabama draw a second Black majority seat within the historic Black Belt, named for its fertile soil and residential to the descendants of enslaved individuals who worked the region’s plantations.

A district court panel, including two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump and one by Bill Clinton, ruled that the state must draw a latest map with a second Black majority seat for the 2022 elections. The lawsuit was “substantially prone to succeed on the merits of their Section Two claims” and was not, the court said, “an in depth one.”

This was since the challenge satisfied each prong of the present test approved by the Supreme Court to find out if a latest majority-minority seat is required to be drawn under Section 2. In 1986, the court approved this test in its decision in Thornburg v. Gingles.

The Gingles test requires Section 2 plaintiffs to prove that the minority population should be sufficiently large enough and reside in a geographically compact region. Second, that minority population should be politically cohesive, as they have to vote together as a bloc. And third, the bulk and minority populations are politically polarized in a fashion where the bulk population, on this case, whites, also votes cohesively as a bloc that will at all times defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.

The Supreme Court heard arguments within the Voting Rights Act case of Merrill v. Milligan on Tuesday.

After the district court panel’s decision, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that it should block the panel’s ruling and take up the case to listen to arguments on overturning the Gingles precedent. As an alternative of the present test that takes race into consideration sometimes, Alabama wants the court to approve a test that rarely considers race. This race-blind test would require states to attract the typical variety of majority-minority districts that appear in a series of algorithmically generated district maps that don’t think about race.

But Alabama’s position became increasingly murky under questioning by the justices on Tuesday.

The justices said they were unclear on what Alabama was asking the court to do within the case.

“What’s the problem?” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked. “We’ve to determine whether you might be claiming that now we have to vary Gingles in some fundamental way or if these plaintiffs didn’t meet [the] Gingles [test].”

Justice Elana Kagan asked whether Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour, arguing the case for Alabama, agreed that “the benchmark” that Alabama proposes for a race-blind standard “has never been recognized by this court.”

In each cases, LaCour dodged the query.

“A few of your arguments that sweep extremely widely,” Kagan noted as LaCour refused to directly assert the state’s argument that Gingles be overturned or rewritten.

LaCour repeatedly evaded such questions and retreated to a unique argument than the predominant argument made by the state in its transient to the court by saying it “ought to be easier to resolve [the case] on narrower grounds.”

Justice Samuel Alito tried to step in to make LaCour’s argument for him. As an alternative of overturning or rewriting Gingles, Alabama would love the court to make it harder to bring and win Section 2 cases by enabling limitations on the best way courts define a geographically compact community in Gingles, Alito said.

Still, other conservative justices said they were confused by LaCour’s arguments.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed with the liberal justices and interpreted the case as an “argument for rewriting Gingles.” He said that while he didn’t hear an argument for that, he wanted LaCour to argue higher why the court should redefine the geographic compactness of political communities when considering Section 2 cases.

Similarly, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she was “struggling in narrowing down what your argument is.”

Questioning Alabama’s case doesn’t necessarily mean the court’s conservatives will reject the state’s arguments.

Five of the six conservative justices agreed to dam the panel’s decision and take up the case. The lone conservative dissenter, Chief Justice John Roberts, wanted the court to permit the brand new map to be implemented but agreed that the court should hear arguments on the case.

And the court’s conservatives have long been hostile to race-conscious policies. As a staffer in Ronald Reagan’s Department of Justice, Roberts pushed hard for the administration to oppose the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in the shape it passed in 1982. He went on to gut the act in his 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Suppose the court conservatives side with the state of Alabama, either explicitly or not directly. In that case, it’ll almost actually result in a major reduction in Black and Latino political representation across the South. A study of the race-blind algorithmic approach Alabama wants the court to adopt found that such a process would “yield substantially fewer districts where minority voters are capable of elect their preferred candidates.”

In Alabama, for instance, it could lead on to eliminating as much as ten Black majority districts within the state legislature.

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