The Supreme Court’s Lack of Enthusiasm for the Voting Rights Act Will Jeopardize the Black Vote in Alabama

Jason Shrem, Contributing Writer

On Monday, February 7, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States stayed a 3-0 decision by a federal district court that would have required the Alabama state legislature to add a second African American majority congressional district. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, speaking for the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, said that the lower court’s proposal fell too close to the primary elections in the fall, and that the case will be decided at a later date. The congressional election in November will therefore be based on Alabama’s previous redistricting scheme, which allows for only one gerrymandered Democratic Congressional district. The lower court agreed that Alabama’s Black population – which is twenty seven percent of the total population of Alabama – is underrepresented by only one district, and that this is a violation of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act’s main purpose is to protect “minorities from discriminatory voting practices”. Historically, African American citizens from southern states like Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama have struggled to gain political power due to violence and voter suppression. 

Justice Kavanaugh – in his opinion to stay the case – wrote that “federal district courts ordinarily should not enjoin state election laws in the period close to an election.” Is this an “ordinary” situation? A congressional election will take place in November, and potentially hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise vote Democratic could be disenfranchised. The Supreme Court’s decision not to take action is a clear indicator of a conservative precedent overriding an urgent democratic principle – that of fairness and non-discrimination in our election system.  Kavanaugh also said in his statement that “Late judicial tinkering with elections can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties, and voters, among others.” What could be a more unfair consequence for Black voters (who make up more than a quarter of Alabama’s population) than for an entire congressional district to be eliminated in the upcoming election?

The current decision in Alabama highlights the evolving judicial philosophy of this new conservative majority. In the case of Rucho versus Common Cause (2018), Chief Justice Roberts said that “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.” In general, this court is very reluctant overall to intervene in partisan gerrymandering decisions. The majority believes in allowing the states to act as they please, and that there is no basis for federal intervention. In the Alabama case, this sets up a clash between the court’s philosophy and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Fast forward to 2022, and even Chief Justice Roberts now feels the conservative majority has gone too far, as he voted against Kavanaugh’s decision to stay the district court’s request. The fundamental question remains: what is the Supreme Court going to do about discrimination? Will they use their conservatism as a pretext to gut the Voting Rights Act? It remains to be seen.

The Supreme Court’s decision is unfair and sets an unjust precedent that will potentially allow discriminatory voter suppression across the United States. How can the Court be so blind to voter suppression in 2022, when history has proven just how hard African American citizens have had to work to earn the right to vote in this country? The Fifteenth Amendment – which guarantees that no state shall deny the right to vote on the basis of race – was ratified in 1870, and now that right is greatly undermined in states all over the country, simply because the Supreme Court does not want to interfere with future election results. We can only hope that in years to come, the Court will reconsider the effects that gerrymandering has on minority groups in America.