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Supreme Court halts redraw of Alabama's congressional map

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 Monday to halt the ordered redraw of Alabama's congressional map, a blow for anti-gerrymandering advocates and Democrats who were hoping to add a second Black-majority congressional district in the state. 

The court will hear the case in its next term, after the 2022 elections, determining whether the Republican-drawn map violates federal voting rights law. 

"The stay will allow this Court to decide the merits in an orderly fashion—after full briefing, oral argument, and our usual extensive internal deliberations—and ensure that we do not have to decide the merits on the emergency docket," wrote Republican Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "To reiterate: The Court's stay order is not a decision on the merits."

In January, a panel of three federal judges found that Alabama's newly-enacted congressional map violated the Voting Rights Act by only having just one seat where Black voters make up a majority or plurality of the district. This decision was upheld by a federal appeals court. 

Alabama proposed congressional map. Alabama Secretary of State

Five conservative justices overturned their decision, citing the proximity of Alabama's primary elections and early voting period. They also wrote that the arguments for the plaintiffs, which include the NAACP's Alabama chapter, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and a group of Black voters, are "not clear cut" in their favor.

"When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled. Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties, and voters, among others," Kavanaugh wrote.

Alabama will now use its passed congressional map, which has just one Black-majority congressional district, for the 2022 elections; 26.8% of the state's population is Black, according to the 2020 Census.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberals on the court in his dissent; they would have let the lower court's  decision ordering the new map to stand while the legal challenges played out. 

In her dissent, Democratic Justice Elena Kagan wrote that halting the redraw "would rewrite decades of this Court's precedent about Section 2 of the [Voting Rights Act.]."

She noted the number of remedial maps presented by plaintiffs during testimony, and criticized the emergency decision as part of a trend of "a disconcertingly long line of cases in which this Court uses its shadow docket to signal or make changes in the law, without anything approaching full briefing and argument."

"It does a disservice to the District Court, which meticulously applied this Court's longstanding voting-rights precedent. And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy," she wrote.

Evan Milligan, a main plaintiff in the case, said that while they're disappointed by the decision, "the fight for fair representation for Black voters in Alabama has been a winding road, generations long."

"The people of Alabama shouldn't have to vote on a map in 2022 that we know is unfair, but we look forward to vindicating our claims at trial as the case continues in federal court," added ACLU of Alabama legal director Tish Gotell Faulks.

Jan Crawford contributed reporting. 

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