WASHINGTON (CN) — A redistricting fight in Alabama that threatened the Voting Rights Act seemed all but settled by the Supreme Court this June, until questions over lawmakers’ compliance with the order caused a stir last week.
On Friday, Alabama lawmakers approved a new congressional map after its previous iteration was ruled unlawful. Five of the high court’s justices voted in favor of a redraw of the state’s congressional maps to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The new map, however, does not appear to fulfill the court’s edict.
“This an incredibly important development that strikes at the heart of our constitutional system,” said David H. Gans, director of the human rights, civil rights and citizenship program at the Constitutional Accountability Center, in a phone interview. “When the Supreme Court and federal courts issue orders, will the government comply with them? Here’s a case where Alabama is defying a court order requiring it to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and it does speak to the depths of resistance to live up to these fundamental principles that were designed to ensure that we have a multiracial democracy.”
Voting rights experts say Alabama’s new map will set off another round of litigation that could result in a court-mandated congressional redraw in the state. While the fate of the map could decide if Democrats gain another seat in Congress, it may also prove pivotal for the authority of the judiciary.
“This is a very dangerous road that I think the court has to be thinking about going forward, not just for this issue, but to any number of matters,” said Kareem Crayton, the senior director for voting and representation at the Brennan Center, in a phone call.
He continued, “If it wants its decisions respected both by federal officials and state officials, they should take this moment seriously, and what they say and how they speak to it — that's the local district court and the United States Supreme Court — I think is going to be carefully reviewed and people will govern themselves accordingly.”
If Alabama lawmakers are allowed to disavow the Supreme Court’s order, other states might follow their lead on a number of controversial issues the justices rule on.
“Not just for even voting rights, think of all the different orders that jurisdictions offer,” Crayton said. “Right now, we're talking about red states, but, you know, if a blue state that's run by Democrats doesn't necessarily like an order, what’s to say that there's a requirement that they follow it?”
At issue in Alabama is lawmakers' refusal to add an additional Black majority district to its congressional maps. The state's proposed 2021 maps were found unlawful because they violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.
Black Alabamians make up 27% of the state’s voting-age population; however, they were only given a majority in one of seven congressional districts in the state. Redistricting efforts following the 2020 election split the state's Black Belt — a region named for its fertile black soil and home to a majority of residents who are descendants of enslaved individuals. In particular, Montgomery was broken into two districts. Alabama lawmakers argued the split was necessary to maintain the Gulf Coast district.
A three-judge panel disagreed with lawmakers' focus on keeping the Gulf together over the Black Belt and ordered a redraw of the maps with a second majority Black district. The Supreme Court agreed with the panel’s assessment, seeming to settle the debate. At least until the new maps were unveiled.