“The Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling is no victory for democracy”

Melissa Murray and Steve Vladeck in WaPo:

The Supreme Court’s unexpected decision on Thursday to keep Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act intact was greeted with relief — even giddiness — among many in the media. Some even hailed it as a “victory” for the act.

They are right, up to a point. Yes, the court’s conservative supermajority failed to undermine voting rights. But this is not an unalloyed victory.

As an initial matter, the decision does not strengthen the act, as some pundits claimed. It merely preserves the status quo. And the status quo is that this court, over the past 10 years, has severely hobbled the law and its protections for minority voters….

The court made its antipathy toward voting rights even more clear in how it handled the case. At the heart of the controversy was the congressional map that Alabama drew in 2021 in response to the 2020 Census. Though roughly 2 in 7 Alabamians are Black, the state’s legislature packed most of the state’s Black voters into one House district (out of seven). Civil rights groups cried foul, prompting Black voters represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union to sue using Section 2, arguing the map was an unlawful racial gerrymander.

Two lower federal courts agreed, instructing Alabama to redraw its map before the 2022 midterm elections. The state appealed those rulings and asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the district court ruling that instructed the state to redraw the map. The “emergency” Alabama relied upon was the dubious (if not entirely specious) claim that it was too close to the election to force the state to redraw its congressional districts.

In an unsigned, unexplained February 2022 order, the court acquiesced by a 5-4 vote. That ruling cleared the way for Alabama’s unlawful map — which a different 5-4 majority blocked on Thursday — to be used in November’s elections.

This intervention in Alabama produced direct and indirect effects in other states, as well. In June, the justices likewise put back into effect the congressional maps drawn by the Louisiana legislature even though a district court invalidated them for the same reasons as the Alabama courts — a ruling the ultraconservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declined to disturb. And in Georgia, a district judge who also believed that the state had drawn congressional maps in violation of Section 2 nevertheless refused to block the maps — entirely because the Supreme Court had put the Alabama maps back into effect.

Here’s the response of Deuel Ross, one of the lawyers for the successful plaintiffs, who calls Milligan a “HUGE victory for democracy:”

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