Here’s what the U.S. Supreme Court’s redistricting decision means for Pa. | Friday Morning Coffee
The federal ruling gives Pa. ‘mapmakers a little more freedom’ to craft majority-minority districts, an expert said
(Al Drago/Getty Images).
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Alabama’s 2022 congressional maps violated the federal Voting Rights Act, handing a victory to civil rights advocates.
Critically, the decision preserves a major part of the federal law, and could lead to new congressional maps in Alabama, the Alabama Reflector, a sibling site of the Capital-Star reported.
Some background, from The Reflector:
A three-judge panel in January 2022 ruled that maps approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2021 that had a single majority-Black congressional district violated Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate based on race, color or membership in certain language groups.
Plaintiffs in the case argued the approach packed Black voters, who tend to vote Democratic, into a single district and made it difficult for those outside the district to elect leaders of their choosing or participate meaningfully in the political process.
The lower court ordered the state to develop a remedy that included a second district with a significant Black population.
Alabama appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Alabama’s approach to redistricting, which it called “race-neutral,” matched the text of the law. The state argued that it generated millions of potential maps without referencing race, and could glean from that a median number of majority-minority districts.
In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the state’s argument, as well as arguments from the state that Section 2 did not apply to single-member districts, writing that the state “misunderstands (Section) 2 and our decisions implementing it.”
The high court’s ruling “acknowledged the very real discrimination voters of color face across the nation,” Maya Wiley, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a Thursday statement.
“For democracy to work for all of us, it must include us all. At a time when too many politicians are trying to make it harder for people of color to choose who will serve them in office, this decision affirms the basic rights enshrined in our Constitution,” Wiley continued. “Our leaders do not get to choose their voters. A majority of the Supreme Court followed its precedent and protected Black voters in Alabama, upholding protections for all voters of color.”
On Thursday, the Capital-Star spoke with Widener Law Commonwealth Professor Michael Dimino, an expert on election law and constitutional law, about the meaning of the ruling and its implications for Pennsylvania.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Capital-Star: What’s the bottom line takeaway from this ruling?
Dimino: The bottom line is that there’s no major change to the Voting Rights Act … Had Alabama won the case, there would have been a significant change in how we understand Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Capital-Star: In what way?
Dimino: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act says you can’t have a voting procedure where a minority group has less opportunity to be involved [in the political process]. That’s been interpreted to mean that you create majority-minority districts in certain circumstances.
… If Alabama had won, and caused the court to reinterpret the Voting Rights Act the way it wanted, it would have reduced instances in which majority-minority districts could be required … The court has made it a little easier to draw majority-minority districts.
Capital-Star: Looking ahead to Pennsylvania’s next redistricting in 2031, what does the ruling mean?
Dimino: It is more likely to shut the door on potential challenges … it reduces the possibility that whites could challenge a pro-minority gerrymander … If anything it gives mapmakers a little more freedom to purposely create majority-minority districts.
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