Court Battles

Supreme Court halts order requiring Alabama to redraw congressional map

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled Alabama’s controversial new congressional maps could stay in place while it reviews a legal challenge, overruling a lower court that had ordered the state to redraw its districts in order to give Black voters better representation.

A 5-4 majority granted a stay of a lower court’s order that found the gerrymandered districts likely violated the Voting Rights Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the three liberal justices in dissent.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the court’s stay will allow the justices to fully hear the case, pushing back the dissenters’ criticism that the majority was making a sweeping ruling to gut voting rights without a full briefing from the parties.

“The stay will allow this Court to decide the merits in an orderly fashion—after full briefing, oral argument, and our usual extensive internal deliberations—and ensure that we do not have to decide the merits on the emergency docket,” Kavanaugh wrote in the opinion, which was joined by Justice Samuel Alito.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion that the majority’s ruling undermines careful consideration applied by the judges below.

“It does a disservice to the District Court, which meticulously applied this Court’s longstanding voting-rights precedent. And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy,” Kagan wrote in the opinion, which was joined by the other two liberal justices.

Alabama’s newly drawn map includes just one district in which Black voters constitute a majority out of seven total districts, despite accounting for about 27 percent of the state’s population.

Plaintiffs who challenged the redistricting in court argued that the new map is part of Alabama’s long history of flouting the Constitution and federal law in order to “discriminate against Black voters to maintain power.”

Last month, a three-judge panel ordered state officials to redraw its districts, setting Monday as a deadline.

The Supreme Court’s order halts that ruling until the justices can hear the case. It did not indicate a timeline along which the case would move forward, but it appears that the upcoming election cycle will operate under the controversial map.

In his opinion, Kavanaugh wrote that with the state’s primary voting to begin at the end of next month, the majority is disinclined to throw the entire election cycle into “chaos and confusion” by forcing Alabama to come up with an entirely new map in just a few weeks.

“When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled. Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties, and voters, among others,” Kavanaugh wrote. “It is one thing for a State on its own to toy with its election laws close to a State’s elections. But it is quite another thing for a federal court to swoop in and re-do a State’s election laws in the period close to an election.”

But Kagan argued that the court was again rolling back voting protections in a rushed, emergency order, following a series of “shadow docket” rulings during the 2020 election cycle that allowed GOP-controlled states to implement voting restrictions.

“The District Court here did everything right under the law existing today,” she wrote. “Staying its decision forces Black Alabamians to suffer what under that law is clear vote dilution.”

Updated at 6:16 p.m.

Tags Alabama Brett Kavanaugh Elena Kagan Redistricting Samuel Alito Supreme Court

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