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Supreme Court rejects Alabama's defiance in voting case

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block enforcement of an Alabama voting rights decision.
Al Drago
Getty Images
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block enforcement of an Alabama voting rights decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to block enforcement of an Alabama voting rights decision that the high court issued just months ago.

In June, the court ruled that Alabama's Republican-drawn congressional map violated the Voting Rights Act because, in a state with seven congressional districts and a 27% Black population, the GOP-dominated legislature had created just one congressional district in which Black voters are either a majority or close to it.

The court's 5-to-4 decision upheld a unanimous decision by a three-judge lower court panel that included two Trump appointees; the lower court had required the creation of a second majority Black congressional district, and the Supreme Court agreed. But when the case was returned to the state legislature with orders to create a second majority Black district, the GOP lawmakers didn't do that. Instead they upped the number of Black voters from 30% to 40% in one of the districts.

That prompted a sharp rebuke from the lower court. Faced with what it viewed as delaying tactics and deliberate defiance of a Supreme Court decision, the lower court appointed a special master to draw a new congressional map with two majority Black districts. To emphasize its displeasure with the state, the three-judge panel refused to put its order on hold, noting that Alabama had already conducted one congressional election in 2022 with an "unlawful map."

The state, however, appealed to the Supreme Court a second time in an effort to postpone the creation of a new map. The state argued that it should be allowed time for a new legal line of attack.

On Tuesday, however, the justices refused to delay the lower court's drawing of a new map with two majority, or near-majority, Black districts. In an unsigned order, the court said: "The application for stay presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied."

No rationale was presented and there were no noted dissents.

The Supreme Court's action was a further repudiation of Alabama's tactics, and served as a reminder that the Voting Rights Act, once viewed by the court's conservatives as no longer necessary, continues to provide a limited but crucial guardrail against deliberate dilution of black voting strength.

Indeed, Tuesday's Supreme Court action could well bolster challenges to maps drawn by Republican-dominated legislatures in other Southern states where civil rights groups and Democrats have brought suits arguing that Republicans are illegally diluting the power of Black voters.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.

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