Sam Levine for The Guardian:
Even for experts who closely follow the US supreme court, there was something stunning about an emergency decision from the justices on Wednesday.
In an unexpected move, the court decided to throw out new districts for the state legislature in Wisconsin that had been picked by the state supreme court. But what was even more surprising was that the court’s conservative majority seemed to go out of its way to attack the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important civil rights laws designed to prevent discrimination in US elections. “Extra headspinning,” was how Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, described it. “Bizarre,” observed Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. David Wasserman, a redistricting expert at the non-partisan Cook Political Report, tweeted that the supreme court had entered “uncharted territory”.
The court’s decision in the Wisconsin case was the latest in a series of rulings that have left little pretense of how aggressively it is trying to weaken section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the most powerful provision of the law, which outlaws racially discriminatory voting practices. The court is not hiding its skepticism of the use of race in redistricting, even when it’s used to protect minority voters, and is making it harder for litigants to justify considering race when district lines are redrawn.
“The supermajority of the conservative justices on the supreme court has become pretty emboldened. They’ve got a narrow vision of the scope of the Voting Rights Act. And they are not being shy about enforcing that as quickly as they can,” Hasen said in an interview. “The court is increasingly aggressive, and as a body is increasingly willingly to go out on a limb to fully implement the justices’ legal and political preferences without it being tempered by concern about perceptions and legitimacy.”
The court’s hostility towards the Voting Rights Act comes at a moment when Republican legislatures across the US are passing a wave of new voting restrictions that many see as thinly veiled efforts to make it harder for Black and Latinx Americans to vote. Voting rights groups have fewer and fewer tools to challenge those restrictions. This is the first redistricting cycle since 1965 that states with a history of voting discrimination don’t have to get their maps pre-approved before they go into effect, under a provision of the Voting Rights Act.