Supreme Court’s Decision Could Reshape House Battlefield
June 8, 2023 · 2:00 PM EDT
By Erin Covey and Jacob Rubashkin
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning that Alabama’s congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the political power of Black voters, and ordered the state to draw a new map — a stunning decision from a court that has weakened the law over the past decade.
Alabama’s current congressional map has only one majority-Black district, the Birmingham-based 7th District, though more than a quarter of the state’s voting-age population is Black. The 7th is also the only Alabama district represented by a Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell. Last year, a panel of three judges (one appointed by President Bill Clinton and two appointed by President Donald Trump) had ordered the GOP-controlled state legislature to draw a map with a second district giving Black voters the ability to elect their own representative. The state appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which allowed the challenged map to be used for the 2022 elections while it assessed the case. The court was widely expected to overrule the three-judge panel’s decision.
The court’s ruling has crucial consequences in the battle for control of the U.S. House in 2024, and not only affects Alabama’s map but also maps in Louisiana and Georgia where similar lawsuits have been pursued. Because voting is so racially polarized — especially in the South — the creation of more majority-Black districts is highly likely to result in more Democratic-won seats. Democrats could have the opportunity to pick up three seats across these states, depending on how quickly the legal processes play out.
In Louisiana, a federal district court judge ruled last year that the state’s map discriminated against Black voters. Though the state’s population is one-third Black, only one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts is majority-Black. The U.S. Supreme Court put the case on hold until it ruled on the Alabama case. And in Georgia, three lawsuits allege that the state’s congressional map violates the Voting Right Act.
Multiple cases in Texas challenge the Lone Star State’s congressional map on Voting Rights Act grounds as well. Unlike the other lawsuits, which allege the dilution of Black communities’ voting power, the Texas cases primarily argue that the map dilutes the voting power of Latino communities. These cases aren’t as far along as the cases in Georgia and Louisiana, and less likely to be resolved ahead of 2024.
The decision adds another wrinkle to the redistricting landscape heading into the 2024 election cycle. In North Carolina, the GOP-controlled state legislature plans to redraw the map to be more favorable to Republicans, potentially targeting up to four Democratic incumbents. Today’s decision may make it less likely they target Rep. Don Davis — among the four Democrats who represent potentially affected districts, his contains the largest proportion of Black voters. Currently, Democrats and Republicans evenly divide the congressional delegation, 7-7. The picture is slightly murkier but still not promising for Democrats in Ohio, where a new map will be drawn by a GOP-controlled state legislature that could further endanger three Democrats who currently represent competitive districts.
On the opposite side of the ledger, Democrats are hopeful that new liberal majorities on the top courts in Wisconsin and New York will result in the creation of more favorable maps in both of those states. Lawsuits in both cases are still pending.
South Carolina’s congressional map is also facing a legal challenge, but not based on the Voting Right Act — a panel of federal judges ruled earlier this year that the state’s 1st District (held by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace) was racially gerrymandered and violated the 14th Amendment. Republicans in the state appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments for the case this fall.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the Supreme Court’s Alabama ruling “a victory for democracy and a reaffirmation that the voices of Black voters matter.”
“This decision will affect redistricting cases across the country and help deliver a House of Representatives that better reflects the diversity of our nation,” DelBene said in the statement, alluding to the ripple effects this ruling will have on states like Louisiana and Georgia.
The National Republican Congressional Committee’s spokesperson accused Democrats of attempting “to rig the game.” In a statement, NRCC communications director Jack Pandol said that “Republicans will grow our majority in spite of Democrats’ legal end-runs around the voters who rejected their policies last November.”