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Surprise Supreme Court decision gives boost to Democratic hopes



A surprising Voting Rights Act decision at the Supreme Court has added a new dimension to the fight for House control ahead of the 2024 election cycle.

The ruling paves the way for the creation of a second Black-majority congressional district in Alabama, but it is also likely to impact voting map fights in states like Louisiana and Georgia.

With active lawsuits challenging congressional boundaries as racial gerrymanders across the country, election handicapper Cook Political Report quickly shifted five House district ratings toward Democrats in the wake of the decision.

The court’s decision has also left a sense of relief in the party after fears the high court would uphold Alabama’s GOP-drawn map proved wrong.

“This decision will affect redistricting cases across the country and help deliver a House of Representatives that better reflects the diversity of our nation, ensuring all voices are represented equally,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement.


Expectations ran high that the Supreme Court would use Alabama’s case to narrow Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that result in racial discrimination. The court temporarily blocked a lower ruling that cited the provision in striking down Alabama’s map.

But when the Supreme Court’s final decision was handed down on Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberals to rule against Alabama. The court found the state diluted the power of Black voters, upholding Section 2 and giving voting rights advocates a 5-4 victory.

“The heart of these cases is not about the law as it exists. It is about Alabama’s attempt to remake our §2 jurisprudence anew,” Roberts wrote, affirming the lower court’s order that the state create a second majority-Black district. 

The Supreme Court’s decision is set to impact disputes over whether other states must create additional minority-majority districts, possibly shifting the math for House control as the nation heads closer to the 2024 election cycle. Democrats need to flip only five seats to retake the majority.

Elias Law Group, a progressive firm that litigates election cases nationwide, lists 31 active redistricting cases alleging violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act across 10 states, though some cases involve state legislature maps.

“Any shifts of districts to make them more competitive has the potential to change the outcome of who controls the House because we’re in such razor-thin margins,” said William Roberts, acting senior vice president for rights and justice at the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Like Alabama, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower ruling mandating Louisiana create an additional majority-Black congressional district. But the justices have been sitting on the case as they considered Alabama’s dispute. 


With a decision now in, the justices are widely expected to send the Louisiana challenge back to a trial court in light of the new opinion. It could provide Democrats, who hold only one of the state’s six House seats, a new chance to make gains if the state is ordered to change its map.

“As I said when I vetoed it, Louisiana’s current congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said in a statement following the decision.

“Louisiana’s voting population is one-third Black,” he continued. “We know that in compliance with the principles of the Voting Rights Act, Louisiana can and should have a congressional map where two of our six districts are majority Black. Today’s decision reaffirms that.”

In a challenge to Georgia’s voting maps, the court overseeing the case has already requested the parties submit their views in writing on how the Alabama ruling impacts the case.

Anticipating the fallout, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report election handicapper within hours of the Supreme Court decision changed four solid Republican districts to toss-ups, two in Alabama and two in Louisiana. It also shifted a Democratic-held House district in North Carolina from toss-up to lean Democratic.

“I think you see those Cook ratings reflecting increased uncertainty, as opposed to reflecting new Democratic odds,” said University of Iowa law professor Derek Muller.

He cautioned the ruling’s exact impact remains unclear, noting it will depend on the particulars of the other states’ cases, many of which remain in early stages.


“It’s entirely possible that a few seats affected by this decision do affect the outcome of the House, but it’s wait and see what the next election cycle looks like,” he said.

“You need to wait and see where the lines are drawn, and after the lines are drawn, I think people are going to have a better idea,” Muller said. “But there’s no question, the last Congress and this Congress have both had very thin margins. And if you’re dealing with very thin margins in the House, every seat matters.”

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) condemned the decision.

“After losing their House majority by doubling down on an extreme policy agenda, Democrats’ transparent political strategy to rig the game is to ‘sue ’til it’s blue.’ Republicans will grow our majority in spite of Democrats’ legal end-runs around the voters who rejected their policies last November,” the NRCC said in a statement.

A decade ago, the Supreme Court in a case also involving Alabama gutted a separate provision of the Voting Rights Act, which established a formula to control which state and local governments were subject to federal pre-clearance before changing their voting laws. 

Some believed the new Alabama case would similarly put the nail in the coffin for Section 2. But Roberts, a civil rights lawyer by training who now works at CAP, said the decision will now serve as a warning to states attempting to enact racial gerrymanders.


“The Supreme Court is willing to exercise the powers of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the other powers left in the Voting Rights Act in a way that would stop them from what they’re doing,” said Roberts. “And so whereas I think the past 10 years probably gave a light to folks who would rely on the court’s very lax, laissez-faire attitude from stopping them. I think maybe this case will make them think twice.”

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Source: The Hill

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