In a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court found Thursday in Allen v. Milligan that Alabama’s legislature violated the voting rights of Black Alabamians with the composition of the state’s congressional maps. Based upon section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the court found that Alabama’s newly redrawn congressional maps closed off the political process to minority voters, denying them equal opportunity in Alabama’s voting processes. Alabama’s legislature must now redraw the maps, which previously “packed” most of the state’s Black population into just one of Alabama’s seven congressional districts.
Plaintiffs filed the case in November 2021 because they claimed that the way the Alabama legislature drew the state’s congressional maps was “malapportioned and racially gerrymandered.” Despite Black residents accounting for 27 percent of Alabama’s population, the legislature “packed” nearly all of the state’s Black voters into one congressional district. The plaintiffs argued that this reduced Black voters’ right to equal voting power under the Voting Rights Act, especially when compared to the state’s other six majority-white congressional districts.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts relied upon Thornburg v. Gingles precedent which established a three-prong test to evaluate section 2 claims under the Voting Rights Act. The court reinforced the use of the three-pronged Gingles analysis: (1) the minority group bringing the section 2 claim must be “sufficiently large and…compact” enough to constitute a majority in one of the state’s districts; (2) the minority group must show it is politically cohesive; and (3) the minority group must show that the state’s white majority carries enough voting power “to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.”
The court found that the plaintiffs satisfied all three prongs in this case, upholding the lower court’s decision. The court found no reason to disturb a district court finding in the case, which commented that “Black Alabamians enjoy virtually zero success in statewide elections.”
The court then rejected Alabama’s attempts to change the court’s approach to section 2 claims. Alabama first argued that their map, as opposed to maps generated by the plaintiffs, should win out because they adhered to an older version of the congressional map. The court disagreed, saying, “If that were the rule, a State could immunize from challenge a new racial discriminatory redistricting plan simply by claiming that it resembled an old racially discriminatory plan.” Alabama then argued that the court should instead adopt a “race-neutral benchmark” to resolve section 2 claims, wherein computer mapping software generates congressional maps without considering race at all. The court said such a benchmark would fail to account for the totality of the circumstances and found it “compelling neither in theory nor in practice.”
Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen—the named defendant in Thursday’s decision—stated he was “disappointed” in the court’s decision. Nevertheless, Allen swore to “comply with all applicable election laws” moving forward in redrawing the state’s maps.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) labeled the decision a “historic win for voting rights,” and the National Redistricting Foundation (NRF) called it “a landmark moment to move the needle in the right direction.”
Plaintiffs from the case also released a joint statement, reading in part, “Today, the Supreme Court reminded them of that responsibility by ordering a new map be drawn that complies with federal law – one that recognizes the diversity in our state rather than erasing it.”