SCOTUS leaves GOP-drawn Alabama redistricting map in place amid legal challenges

By a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declared that new, Republican-drawn congressional district maps in the state of Alabama may remain in place pending resolution of  challenges to their constitutionality on gerrymandering grounds, overturning the decision of a lower court requiring the boundaries to be redone, as The Hill reports.

As a result of the decision, a stay was imposed on a three-judge appeals panel ruling in which it was found that districts drawn by the GOP-led legislature pursuant to data from the 2020 federal census were likely in violation of the Voting Rights Act in that they did not provide sufficient representation for Black voters.

The Washington Times reported that Justice Brett Kavanaugh made clear, however, that the decision to allow the map to stay in place for the time being is not akin to a final ruling on whether its boundaries are constitutional, but will permit the court to “decide the merits in an orderly fashion – after full briefing, oral argument, and our usual extensive internal deliberations… .”

Kavanaugh opined that the lower court issued its order that the districts be redrawn mere weeks prior to the 2022 elections, given that absentee voting in primary contests is poised to start in March, saying, “When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled. Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties, and voters, among others.”

The conservative justice also expressed concern about the federal panel’s intervention more broadly at this point in time, adding, “It is one thing for a State on its own to toy with its election laws close to a State’s elections. But it is quite another thing for a federal court to swoop in and re-do a State’s elections laws in the period close to an election.”

Notably, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the high court’s liberal wing, and in his own dissenting opinion, stated that the lower court ruling should remain in place for the 2022 contests and then the high court could hear challenges thereafter.

Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor all opined that the lower court’s decision ought to have remained untouched, with Kagan writing, “The Distict Court here did eveyrthing right under the law existing today. Staying its decision forces Black Alabamians to suffer what under the law is clear vote dilution,” referencing the fact that the new map includes only a single Black majority district out of seven, even though such voters comprise roughly 27% of Alabama’s population.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, the challengers will continue to battle against the GOP-drawn districts, saying, “The people of Alabama shouldn’t have to vote on a map in 2022 that we know is unfair, but we look forward to vindicating our claims at trial as the case continues in federal court.”

As Roll Call noted on Tuesday, the high court’s ruling in this case sends a signal that other current federal challenges to redistricting maps – including those in Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Arkansas, Washington, and elsewhere – may be stalled in the run-up to the all-important midterm battles, thwarting the sort of near-term electoral impact partisan litigants had hoped.