Supreme Court, in a 6-3 Partisan Decision by Justice Alito, Greenlights Racial Gerrymandering, Further Eroding Voting Rights

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Voting Rights

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Carolyn Bobb

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 23, 2024 – Today the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, granting South Carolina permission to proceed with its racially gerrymandered congressional map. The Court’s conservatives concluded that if a map is gerrymandered along partisan lines, it cannot intervene, even if that causes the map to also be racially gerrymandered. Given Black voters overwhelmingly vote for Democratic nominees, this ruling grants a free ride for drawing maps that disadvantage Black voters, making it much more difficult for Black voters to prove racial gerrymandering.

Once again, Justice Alito has dealt a massive blow to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today’s opinion holds that, “If either politics or race could explain a district’s contours, the plaintiff has not cleared its bar.” But, as the Justice himself admits, partisan and racial gerrymandering “can look very similar.” The Court effectively grants carte blanche to legislators engaged in racial gerrymandering; because not only has the Court established  a strong presumption of good faith, but also all the legislators really need to do to defend against racial gerrymandering is say that they were engaged in partisan gerrymandering.

The Court further heightens the evidentiary burdens on plaintiffs by adopting the “alternative map requirement” discussed at oral argument. “Without an alternative map, it is difficult for plaintiffs to defeat our starting presumption that the legislature acted in good faith.” But why should plaintiffs be forced to find and hire map drawers? This burden-shifting is but another effort by the Roberts court to make it nigh impossible to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Kagan, writing for the dissent, made clear that, “The majority cannot begin to justify its ruling on the facts without in two ways reworking the law — each to impede racial-gerrymandering cases generally.” She concluded that, “In every way, the majority today stacks the deck against the Challengers. They must lose, the majority says, because the State had a ‘possible’ story to tell about not considering race — even if the opposite story was the more credible.”

Alliance for Justice Vice President of Strategy, Keith Thirion, issued the following statement:

“This Court’s quest to completely dismantle equal voting protections advances with this terrible ruling in South Carolina. There was some hope after last year’s decision about Alabama’s maps that allowing racial gerrymandering was a line that even the conservative justices weren’t willing to cross. But corrupt with power and immune from consequences, the 6-3 conservative supermajority on the Court has gutted almost every aspect of the Voting Rights Act, and now they’ve demonstrated their willingness to disregard what’s left by again making it even harder to prove racial gerrymandering. Free and fair elections where every vote counts are vital to our democracy, but this Court abandons democracy at every turn because they believe they are accountable only to themselves.”

“After the news this past week that two separate flags flew at the homes of Justice Alito expressing sympathy with “Stop the Steal” and Christian nationalism, and reports over the past year that Justice Thomas has been corrupted by conservative mega-donors, we cannot trust these Justices, or this Court, with our most cherished right. Congress must act now to protect the people and our Constitutional democracy from their political and partisan agenda.”