The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief July 18 with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to uphold a federal district court’s decision that Alabama’s 2021 congressional redistricting plan violated a longstanding provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, which under certain circumstances permits consideration of racial impact in reviewing redistricting changes.
In the closely watched case, Alabama has argued that its plan, which created one minority-majority district out of seven, is race-neutral based on computer modeling. The state further has asked the Supreme Court to upend legal precedent that allows the consideration of race when conducting the analysis of the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2 claims as established in the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Thornburg v. Gingles.
Following the 2020 census, Alabama adopted a plan for its seven congressional districts that included only one majority-Black district, although the state’s Black voting-age population is 25.9%. A federal district court applied Gingles to hold that Alabama violated Section 2 because it would be possible for the state to create a second majority-Black district. In February, by a 5-4 vote the Supreme Court stayed the federal court’s decision and ordered a full briefing and oral argument for its next term, which begins in October.
In its brief, the ABA said racial discrimination “still exists in the electoral process,” and that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act has served as a “key means of ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity to exercise the fundamental right to vote.” Besides upholding the district court judge’s decision in the Alabama case, the Supreme Court should also “reaffirm its longstanding interpretation” of Section 2 in previous decisions, the ABA said.
“The Gingles interpretation has been settled law for 36 years without congressional revision,” the ABA brief said. “And throughout multiple redistricting cycles, litigants and governments have relied on Gingles as the test to balance governments’ redistricting prerogatives and minorities voting rights.”
The ABA added that Section 2 is consistent with the 14th and 15th Amendments, which are both post-Civil War, equal rights provisions. The Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965 as a vehicle to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels in the South that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote. It has been renewed and revised several times during the past half century.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the act’s Section 4, which related to pre-clearance of electoral changes in covered areas, exceeded Congress’ power to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments.