Must-read Joan Biskupic report for CNN:
When the Supreme Court considered the challenge to an Alabama congressional map that shortchanged the state’s Black voters, liberal justices expected the conservative majority to side with Alabama – if not gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act altogether.
Instead, the justices emerged from their first closed-door conference meeting on the case in October 2022 without a solid majority for either side, CNN has learned. Ordinarily, this meeting, held without any law clerks or other staff present, results in a clear understanding among the nine justices of which party will prevail in a case. In the Alabama dispute, sources said, it was far from certain which side would win.
What happened next defied predictions from inside and outside the court. A series of negotiations, most notably between Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, transformed what many thought would be a ruling undercutting the Voting Rights Act into a forceful affirmation of the law.
Roberts and Kavanaugh enjoy a decades-old kinship and often confer privately on matters. Most internal debate takes place among all nine justices, whether in regular closed-door sessions or the circulation of memos. But Roberts regularly reaches out to Kavanaugh behind another set of closed doors to understand his views and, as happened here, to secure his vote.
Ambivalent during early internal debate, Kavanaugh eventually gave Roberts enough confidence that he could write an opinion for a majority.
Kavanaugh has since become the focus of Alabama officials who directly flouted the Supreme Court’s June decision and are now seeking another chance before the court.