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Supreme Court hands Alabama Republicans huge victory in redistricting fight; Roberts joins liberal justices

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David McNew/Getty Images

The Supreme Court handed Alabama Republicans a significant victory Monday, upholding the GOP-drawn congressional district map that was struck down by a federal appeals court.

The court issue highlights a growing double standard in politics: When Republicans draw gerrymandered congressional district maps, it is racist and violates voting rights laws. But when Democrats draw gerrymandered maps, it is not racist but about expanding voting access.

What is the background?

Last month, Alabama appealed directly to the Supreme Court after a three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to redraw its previously passed congressional district map. The federal court ruled that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act.

Apparently assuming that black Alabama voters only want to vote for black politicians or Democrats, the three-judge panel said, "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress" and said the new congressional district map must "include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it."

What did the Supreme Court say?

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court halted the lower court's ruling, thus upholding Alabama's map of congressional districts. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's left-leaning justices.

Importantly, the Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the case. Instead, as Justice Brett Kavanaugh explained, issuing a stay against the lower court's ruling means the Supreme Court now will have sufficient time to consider the merits of the case.

"The stay will allow this Court to decide the merits in an orderly fashion—after full briefing, oral argument, and our usual extensive internal deliberations—and ensure that we do not have to decide the merits on the emergency docket," Kavanaugh explained. "To reiterate: The Court’s stay order is not a decision on the merits."

On the merits of the case, Kavanaugh explained:

As to the merits, the underlying question here is whether a second majority-minority congressional district (out of seven total districts in Alabama) is required by the Voting Rights Act and not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. But the Court’s case law in this area is notoriously unclear and confusing. As THE CHIEF JUSTICE rightly notes, there is “considerable disagreement and uncertainty regarding the nature and contours of a vote dilution claim."

Because of the ruling, the map will used for the upcoming primary elections and most likely for the 2022 general election.

What about gerrymandering?

As Democrats face probable losses in the 2022 midterms, the party is winning the redistricting process. According to the Cook Political Report, Democrats have a 2.5-seat advantage over Republicans at this point in the congressional district map redrawing process.

Democrats have used gerrymandering to get there, with New York standing out. Currently, Republicans represent seven congressional districts in the Empire State. But Democrats have redrawn the district map to kneecap Republicans and cut their potential delegation in half.

The Justice Department has even taken action over gerrymandering, filing a lawsuit against Texas over its proposed map. Notably, the DOJ has not sued Democrat-controlled states with heavily gerrymandered maps.

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