December 5, 2022

How an Alabama redistricting case could chip away at the voting rights of people of color

7 min read


Voting is as important to Letitia Jackson as drinking or breathing water. He has his mother to thank for nurturing that belief.

When Jackson was just a girl in Alabama in the late 1960s, she always went to the polls with her mother. During these visits, his mother would expound on the sanctity of the franchise. And why wouldn’t he? It was only a few years ago that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to end racial discrimination in voting—so that black Americans like Jackson and his family Maximum equality can be achieved.

“She would talk to me about how we as a people have a responsibility to exercise our right to vote. died We have that right,” Jackson told CNN. “Even in the ’90s, my mother would want me to go get her and take her to the polls. She was determined to vote.”

Jackson, a public policy advocate, reflected on these early experiences at an uncertain moment for voting rights. on Tuesday, The US Supreme Court heard Merrill v. Mulligan., a redistricting case in Alabama focused on Section 2 of the VRA that prohibits any rule that results in the “denial or impairment” of the right to vote “because of race.” Jackson is a plaintiff in Merrill, one of the most important election cases in recent years. Depending on the court’s decision, Merrill could allow states to limit the political power of black and brown Americans – and reduce their access to public resources at the local level.

“It’s kind of surreal. It feels like we’re starting the fight for the right to vote again,” Jackson said. “It’s almost like we’ve turned back the hands of time.”

Khedida Stone, a chief field and campaign strategist for the Alabama forward and another plaintiff, echoed some of those sentiments.

“This is an important moment in history, and everyone should pay attention,” he told CNN. But also: Why are we here? Why do we still have to fight for the right to vote?”

Here’s a closer look at how Meryl can impact communities of color:

In Merrill, the bench reviewed a lower court opinion from January. Blocked Alabama’s newly drawn congressional map. For possibly contravening Section 2 of the VRA.

The map includes only one district where black voters can put their favorite candidate in office, even though blacks make up 27 percent of the state’s voting-age population.

Because lower court judges determined that black voters had “less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates for Congress of their choice,” legislators were told to choose another majority black district or Make something very close to it.

State Sen. Roger Smotherman compares congressional district maps during a special redistricting session at the Alabama State House on Nov. 3, 2021, in Montgomery.

“This decision is a victory for black voters in Alabama, who have long been denied equal representation,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. The January statement was released by the National Restructuring Foundation.. “The court’s decision reminds us that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice — but only if enough people come together and pull it toward justice.”

However, Alabama subsequently asked the Supreme Court to block the decision. 5-4 majority The request of the state was accepted.

One of Alabama’s arguments is that the disadvantage of the VRA is that it essentializes race — that is, it districts voters based on race and deepens the divide. But that claim completely misrepresents the VRA, according to Yurij Rodinsky, a senior attorney at the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. who filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs..

The trial court (a three-judge panel with two of Donald Trump’s nominees) found that an average of about 15% of white voters in the relevant Alabama precincts (black belt areas) were willing to support such candidates. are also gaining support from black voters,” Rodinsky told CNN.

This type of polarized voting can distort how political leaders approach different groups and lead to unequal political opportunities and perpetuate other disparities.

“The VRA targets real discrimination,” Rodinsky said. “When you have these kinds of dynamics — where white voters are splitting the interests of black voters 85-15 — politicians have tremendous incentives to exploit that racial polarization. More A prominent feature of politics is the use of race to drive turnout and among communities that may otherwise share common economic or other interests.

It is not the VRA, in other words, that increases the salience of race in public life but rather the failure to identify and address areas of persistent racial disparity.

“I think that many of the arguments in favor of keeping this map in place by Congress and by some conservative corners of the court put it completely backward, in terms of what actually defines race. And what about actually helping to bridge some of the. Divisions that have plagued communities for decades,” Rodinsky said.

The stakes at Merrill are tough.

“It’s a very important time,” a student at Southern University Law Center and another plaintiff told CNN. “A decision in this case could help build black political power throughout the South.”

It’s worth noting that Alabama isn’t actually arguing that the lower court misconstrued the VRA. Instead, the state is asking that the Supreme Court reconsider the rules governing Section 2 claims.

Rewriting Section 2 altogether, Rodinsky said, “will provide relief to voters of color, as well as civil rights groups and community groups who work with constituents who face discrimination in redistricting.” for, would make it much more difficult, if not impossible.”

In recent years, voting rights advocates have relied more heavily on Section 2 protections, as the VRA has been dying by a thousand cuts.

Voting rights supporters hand out placards outside the U.S. Supreme Court on February 27, 2013, as the court prepares to hear Shelby County v. Holder.

Most Notorious, by 2013 Shelby County v. Holderthe high court freed the jurisdiction of the history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal approval, or “preclearance,” before Section 5 of the VRA changed its election laws.

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her famous dissent, “When working and continuing to work to prevent discriminatory changes, it’s like throwing your umbrella into a rainstorm.”

gave Restrictive voting laws increased after Shelby proved his point.

Importantly, in Merrill, it is not only the abstract notion of fair representation that hangs in the balance.

“The basic logic of the VRA is that with political equality comes a more natural solution to systemic inequality in areas such as education, housing, health care and employment,” Rodinsky said. “And the reality is that it comes out. When you look at places where voters of color were systemically excluded — places that didn’t have a legacy of discrimination — and where you see the success of the VRA. Claims have seen significant improvements in economic outcomes, particularly for black communities.”

Put another way, the VRA created pathways to economic self-sufficiency for the middle class and for ethnic groups that have long been marginalized in America.

Dodi also expressed similar sentiments. More specifically, he emphasized that redistribution has a direct impact on the distribution of both power and public resources.

“When community members can elect a candidate who shares their concerns and understands their needs, that’s how real change and empowerment can happen. Often times when you walk through black neighborhoods, our The neighborhoods don’t look the best. That’s because we don’t always have the right people fighting for us to get the right resources,” Doody said.

“It’s as simple as that,” he added.

In the coming months, seasoned court watchers will have plenty to analyze. They will scrutinize the oral arguments and try to find out where the various judges stand on the issue.

On Tuesday, members of the court’s conservative majority appeared to reject Alabama’s more extreme arguments while trying to find a way to preserve the state’s congressional map.

“If last year is any guide, we’ll likely see an opinion issued at the end of the term, because Merrill is such an important case and will probably create a strong disagreement on the court,” Rodinsky said.

Tish Gotel-Fox, legal director of the ACLU of Alabama, which is involved in redistricting litigation, emphasized that what is at stake is the opportunity for voters of color to have their voices heard.

“We’re still fighting the old battles,” he told CNN. “It should not be an open question whether black voters have an equal opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.”

In some ways, Jackson sees this moment as a reminder of how valuable the franchise is.

“It feels like we (black Americans) have never been accepted as full citizens of this country,” he said. “And this case is a reminder to our youth, who have always enjoyed the right to vote, that our votes what Case. Because if our votes don’t matter, they (legislators) don’t try to take it away right away.

Or as Dowdy put it, “It’s a reminder that we should never get too comfortable.”

If there’s one conclusion to be drawn from concerted efforts to limit access to the ballot box, it’s that voting protections are unpredictable: One day they’re here, and the next they’re gone.

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