Alarming verdict by Alabama High Court raises concerns about voting rights

WASHINGTON (AP), -- The Supreme Court's decision not to allow the creation of a second, mostly Black district in Alabama to host the 2022 elections prompted new warnings about court politicization. This is eroding Voting Rights Act and reviving Congress' need to intervene.

Alarming verdict by Alabama High Court raises concerns about voting rights

WASHINGTON (AP), -- The Supreme Court's decision not to allow the creation of a second, mostly Black district in Alabama to host the 2022 elections prompted new warnings about court politicization. This is eroding Voting Rights Act and reviving Congress' need to intervene.

A lower court ruling by the Supreme Court that Alabama must draw new congressional district to increase Black voter power was put on hold by its conservative majority. Civil rights groups had claimed that the state with its "sordid history" of racial discrimination "packed" Black voters into one district, and then "cracking" Black residents from six other districts to dilute their electoral power. Alabama's 26% black electorate is comprised of Black voters.

Monday's 5-4 Supreme Court decision was a clear indication that it will review the case. This could lead to a legal battle in the coming months, which voting advocates fear could undermine the protections provided by the Civil Rights-era law.

It is "the latest example of a Supreme Court hacking away the protections of... the voting rights act 1965," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "Congress must act. "We must reinstate the Voting Rights Law."

This decision almost guarantees that Alabama will continue sending mostly white Republicans to Washington following this fall's midterm election. It also applies new pressure to Congress to strengthen voter protections, after a larger elections bill fell apart last month. The decision also shows the increasing power of the conservative majority on the high court as President Joe Biden is being pressured to name a liberal nominee for Justice Stephen Breyer's replacement.

Rep. Terri Sewell (the only Black representative from Alabama) stated that the court's decision highlights the need for Congress pass her bill, The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to update and protect the law's historical protections.

Sewell stated in a statement that "Black Alabamians deserve no less"

Alabama's case is one of the most crucial legal tests for the new congressional maps that result from the 2020 census count. This case comes after a series of court decisions widely criticized for removing protections from the Voting Rights Act based on race.

Alabama and other states that have a history of voting rights violations are no longer subject to federal oversight or "preclearance" from the Justice Department. This was after Shelby v. Holder, the court's 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, invalidated the bill's formula.

Alabama's Republican-led Legislature created new maps last autumn to better reflect the changing demographic data and population. Civil rights groups representing Black voters challenged them immediately.

A three-judge lower court that includes two former President Donald Trump judges ruled late last month that the state had likely violated the federal Voting rights Act by diluting Black voters' political power. This was partly due to the fact that there wasn't a second district where Black voters were a majority or very close to it.

The plaintiffs argued that the single Black district in Alabama, which has more than one in four Black residents, is much less than one person and one vote.

The ruling, which covers 225 pages, stated that black voters have less chance than other Alabamians of electing candidates to Congress.

The lower court gave Alabama's legislature until Friday to develop a plan.

After an appeal from Alabama, the Supreme Court issued a stay late Monday. Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, both part of the conservative majority, argued that the order by the lower court for a new map was too close to 2022 elections. Alabama's Republican- and Democratic primaries will be held on May 24.

Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by his three liberal colleagues in dissension.

"It's just really disturbing," said Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J), who is a member the Judiciary Committee. He called the Supreme Court decision "a setback in racial equality, to ideals one person, one vote."

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said that the decision "hits the guts of voter rights."

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, stated that the court's decision highlights the need for Congress legislation to protect voting rights. These rights are being lost, which is exactly what the Voting Rights Bill is designed to stop.

Critics have gone beyond shaming the decision to claim that the court is now political.

"I know that the court likes it to say it isn't partisan, it's impartial, but this seems to have been a very political decision," stated Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland. Rep. Hakeem Jeffreys, D-N.Y. tweeted that the court majority had "zero legitimacy."

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tweeted that the court's actions were "Jim Crow 2.0".

Alabama Republicans applauded the court's decision. Rep. Mo Brooks, who is running for the GOP nomination to the Senate, said that "it is great news." He called the lower court's ruling an attempt to "usurp", the decisions of the state legislature.

Justice Elena Kagan in dissension wrote that the justices will decide at a later date whether the state's map violates the voting rights laws. This case could challenge "decades" of Court precedents about Section 2 of Act. Section 2 prohibits discrimination based on race or other factors in voting procedures.

Voting rights advocates view the argument ahead as a showdown about voting rights that they claim are being slowly but surely altered by Roberts court.

In the Shelby decision, the Supreme Court removed the preclearance formula in Section 5 of the Voting rights Act. In Bronvich, vs. The Democratic National Committee, the conservative majority upheld voting limits in an Arizona case involving early ballots. A lower court had found them discriminatory under Section 2.

The court in Alabama is now wading deeper into Section 2 limits regarding redistricting maps.

"It is concerning," stated Davin Rosborough (a senior staff attorney for the ACLU voting rights projects).

Chris England, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, is Tuscaloosa-based member of the Alabama Legislature. He said that he was concerned about the Supreme Court's actions and how they will impact other GOP-controlled states.

England stated that if this were the epicenter of an earthquake, the tremors would be felt in state legislatures and city councils.

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