Richard Pildes, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law, has thought deeply about the constitutionally appropriate role of race in redistricting for more than 20 years. His analytically rigorous scholarship, cited by the Supreme Court in 10 voting rights cases between 1995 and 2009, has frequently incorporated empirical data to advance a larger theme—namely, that the Court’s doctrine on the use of race under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) should be adapted to reflect changing racial realities. In November 2014, Pildes put his scholarship to the test to make his winning Supreme Court oral argument in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama….
The Court’s opinion was a personal triumph for Pildes for an additional reason, notes Professor Nathaniel Persily, a voting rights expert at Stanford Law School. “Pildes also achieved the unique distinction of not only winning over the majority, but also having his work cited by one of the dissenters [Justice Clarence Thomas]. It is a testament to his influence, and the trust the Justices, of different political and jurisprudential persuasions, place in him.”
This case “might have been the harbinger of the end of the Voting Rights Act as we know it,” says Professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School, former counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Instead, the Court unmistakably supported the contextual and nuanced assessment of race and politics that justice demands, and vigorously affirmed the place of the Voting Rights Act in that assessment. Pildes won the first Supreme Court racial gerrymandering case on behalf of African-American voters in 55 years, and in so doing, ensured that jurisdictions could not misuse legal protections for minority communities for their own political ends.”
Let me add my congratulations to Rick (a contributor to this blog) and others who worked on this case for a most impressive win before a court usually skeptical of claims raised by minority plaintiffs.