Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Alabama Defies SCOTUS Order to Redraw Electoral Map

Alabama voting ballot box.
By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

You'd think that when the U.S. Supreme Court tells you to do something, you kind of have to do it. You'd think that if the Court tells you that your electoral maps are racist, you'd need to change them to comply. But Alabama seems to be testing SCOTUS on its ability — or willingness — to police gerrymandering. First, a little history.

The Voting Rights Act and Shelby County

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was enacted on August 6, 1965, with the aim of strengthening the Reconstruction Amendments, which were meant to the protect voting rights of people of color, among other things. Its provisions were relatively modest at first. Section 2 of the VRA effectively (though not explicitly) made literacy tests at the polls a thing of the past. It also called for an end to poll taxes, though it fell short of actually instituting a ban. The VRA has been through a lot since then: amended five times, reinstated, and fought over in Congress and in the courts.

The last major defanging of the VRA came in 2013 at the hands of the Supreme Court, in the case, Shelby County v. Holder. The case ended in a split 5-4 decision for the plaintiff, who was the local government in Shelby County, Alabama. Shelby County was suing then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder because it thought that Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA were unconstitutional. SCOTUS' decision effectively gutted Section 4, which in turn also neutered Section 5. Sections 4 and 5 were the source of much consternation on the part of the Jim Crow South, because these provisions made it harder to discrimination against people of color in elections.

While Section 2 eliminated one way of keeping Black voters away from the ballot box, it was Sections 4 and 5 that made the VRA more broadly effective against discriminatory election practices. Section 5 was particularly galling, as it essentially took away local and state governments' ability to create new voting laws without getting the green light from the federal government (i.e., the Attorney General). Section 4 laid out a formula for determining which states were subject to Section 5's provisions. The gutting of Section 4 thus rendered Section 5 moot.

But at some point, SCOTUS apparently decided that Southern states had learned their lessons and totally wouldn't go back to their discriminatory habits — despite Justice Ginsburg's warning that the decision would lead to unfettered racially biased gerrymandering. She and the other justices in dissent used the very apt metaphor which rings for many to this day: that getting rid of these important measures "is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

Alabama Seizes the Opportunity

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alabama only had to wait until the next scheduled redrawing of its electoral maps (the 2020 census) to bust out the old book of racist tricks. Alabama (a state with a very diverse population) redrew its electoral maps with such egregious racial bias that even today's conservative Supreme Court SCOTUS had to tell them to go back to the drawing board. The Republican-dominated Alabama legislature redrew the maps such that only one of the state's seven congressional districts had a majority Black population. The rest of the Black population was spread over other districts such that the Black voters had little to no voting power.

So. SCOTUS told Alabama to redraw the maps to include at least two Black-majority districts. But Alabama basically said "no." Last Friday, the state legislature put forth a new map that seems to clearly defy SCOTUS's order, as this map seems to dilute the Black vote even further. It's hard to imagine Alabama being able to stand up to SCOTUS for long, but the whole ordeal raises a very important question: should we reinstate the Voting Rights Act? Clearly, gerrymandering is an easy habit to fall back into. So, should the Feds be allowed to play referee, like they were before Shelby County?

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard