WASHINGTON (CN) — Experts worry that the Voting Rights Act may be on the high court’s chopping block yet again after the conservative majority of the Supreme Court prevented litigation over a contested congressional map from moving forward during an election year.
Without an explanation, the justices blocked a district court ruling on Monday evening that would have forced Alabama to redraw its congressional map that the lower court said violated the Voting Rights Act. The lower court asked the state to give more influence to Black voters by creating another majority Black district. Alabama asked the Supreme Court for a stay on the district court’s ruling last month. The high court also agreed to add the case to its docket and it will most likely be heard next term.
Some of the justices in the majority said the litigation was too close to the election to be considered this year.
In his opinion on the order, Justice Brett Kavanaugh — who was joined by Justice Samuel Alito — relied on an expanded version of the Purcell principle, which prohibits district courts from altering election rules close to an election, to explain why the contested map should be used in the 2022 election.
“In short, the Purcell principle requires that we stay the District Court’s injunction with respect to the 2022 elections,” the Trump appointee wrote. “The Court has recognized that ‘practical considerations sometimes require courts to allow elections to proceed despite pending legal challenges.’ So it is here. If the District Court’s judgment is eventually affirmed after appellate review, the injunction can take effect for congressional elections that occur after 2022.”
Basically, Kavanaugh justifies his vote to overturn the lower court’s order by saying the case is just too close to the election to consider. However, the case was brought directly after Alabama released its map and the district court rushed its proceedings in an attempt to avoid this problem.
“Although they did not criticize us for bringing it too late — they basically recognize we brought it as soon as they can — it's still too close to the election,” Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project and co-counsel on the case, said in a phone call. “So in the case of Alabama, they have set up a system where despite the fact that three judges, found that it was not a close question, that we very clearly established that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act, there will be no remedy this year and basically these elections are going to proceed under districts that are discriminatory.”
Experts say this presents a real problem because it halts the enforcement of constitutional rights.
“Constitutional rights can not simply be put on hold because it's an election year,” David Bateman, professor of government at Cornell, said in a phone call.
If the justices are saying that even if challengers to new congressional maps bring their case as soon as possible they still do not have the option to get any relief before an election is conducted, then it signals that legislatures get a free for all the first year their map goes into effect.
“The court is kind of using its shadow docket to create this new rule where a discriminatory map maybe gets a free pass for the first year of an election cycle,” David H. Gans, director of the human rights, civil rights, and citizenship program at the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a phone call. “I think that's the upshot of the ruling.”
While the order marks only a setback and not the conclusion of voting rights advocates’ fight to give Black Alabamians more influence in elections, it ensures that the 2022 election will be conducted with the contested map.