The Supreme Court refused to reinstate Alabama’s Republican-drawn congressional map, enabling a court-appointed official to draw the lines for the 2024 election instead.
The justices in June struck down Alabama’s previous map for likely diluting the power of Black voters, and the current dispute concerned a new version that still did not add a second majority-Black district.
Alabama had urged the justices to temporarily halt a lower ruling that blocked that new map for not following the Supreme Court’s directive.
In a brief order Tuesday, the high court denied the state’s request, handing a significant victory for voting rights advocates and a group of Black Alabama voters who sued over the design. There were no noted dissents.
The ruling could also provide a boost to Democrats in their quest to retake the House next year. Rather than using the Republican-drawn lines for the 2024 election cycle, the order paves the way for an independent expert appointed by a panel of federal judges to design the boundaries instead.
That court-appointed expert is set to submit the final map in the coming days.
When Alabama brought its redistricting fight to the high court the first time, the justices ruled 5-4 in February 2022 to temporarily revive the state’s map, allowing it to be used for that year’s midterms.
Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted to revive the map, at the time cited a legal doctrine that federal courts should not intervene to alter state election rules in the lead-up to an election.
But in the final decision months later, Kavanaugh went the other way, giving Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s three liberals a majority to toss Alabama’s map for likely violating the Voting Rights Act.
The state’s Republican-led Legislature was directed to draw a new map that “will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
The new design maintained Alabama’s one majority-Black district — which is represented by the state’s lone congressional Democrat — and only increased the percentage of Black voters in the 2nd Congressional District from 30 percent to 40 percent.
The original plaintiffs challenged the new design, saying Alabama had defied the Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, a panel of federal judges sided with them by ruling that Alabama’s new map did not remedy the issue. The panel instead ordered a court-appointed official step in and draw the lines.
“The State of Alabama has been maligned as engaging in ‘open rebellion’ because it remedied the discriminatory effect in the 2021 Plan without going further to split Mobile, or Dothan, or the places in between on race-based lines. No State could constitutionally draw such plans,” Alabama wrote in court filings.
In an interview ahead of the ruling, Evan Milligan, one of the lead plaintiffs, said he was optimistic about their chances at the Supreme Court, given the past success.
“I’m more optimistic than when we started,” he said. “So, it’s been about two years. I think for a number of reasons. There are a lot of people that are interested in this now that were not a part of the conversation, when we first started.”