Supreme Court’s liberals mount defense of Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court Liberals, including new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, on Tuesday strongly defended the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Alabama should be required to draw voting cards that give black voters a chance for equal representation.

The court faces a showdown this term over whether race can be considered in constituency draws or college admissions to improve equality and diversity, or whether consideration of race is illegal for any reason.

Court conservatives intervened in February by a 5-4 vote for Alabama, blocking judges asking the state to draft a second congressional district with a near majority for African Americans. About 27% of the state’s population is black, but only one of its seven counties has elected a black candidate.

Alabama prosecutors upped the ante, prompting judges on Tuesday to rule broadly that the constitutional and voting rights statute prohibits the state from taking steps to provide black residents with more equal representation.

The elections in Alabama are “equally open to all voters,” said prosecutor Edmund LaCour. It would be wrong to “preferentially discriminate against one group” by deliberately choosing a constituency where black residents are in the majority.

He had barely begun his argument when Judges Elena Kagan and Jackson interrupted him to assert that the Voting Rights Act understands that racial fairness sometimes requires consideration of race.

Kagan said the Voting Rights Act was “one of the great achievements of American democracy” and that his goal was to end the era of racial exclusion with an equal opportunity rule.

“They’re asking us to curb 40 years of precedent,” she said, and make it extremely difficult for black candidates to win elections in places like Alabama, where voting is “incredibly polarized” based on race.

Jackson accepted the conservatives’ claim that the Constitution itself was “race-blind,” noting that the amendments at issue in this case were passed after the Civil War in response to slavery.

“The drafters adopted the 14th and 15th Amendments racially” because people had been discriminated against because of their race. “This was not a race-neutral or race-blind idea,” she said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor raised the same issue, and the Liberals were joined by Conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh on much of the argument. He said the evidence showed Alabama could create a black-majority second district that wouldn’t be oddly shaped or “bizarre.”

But the dispute did not reveal how the court would decide. Most conservative judges said little.

Only Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. appeared to side with Alabama. He said mapmakers had to focus on race to draw a black-majority second district and that was legally questionable.

Civil rights activists fear the court’s conservative majority is poised to make it much more difficult for black and Hispanic voters to win representation in Congress, state legislatures and city councils.

Congress sponsored the Voting Rights Act in 1982 to ban voting cards that denied ethnic minorities an equal opportunity to “elect representatives of their choosing.” That, in turn, had forced states to draw constituencies whenever possible that would have a majority or near-majority of black or Hispanic voters.

But Alabama attorneys argue that using race as a factor in drawing electoral districts is illegal “racial gerrymander.”

The case is Merrill vs. Milligan.

If the Supreme Court rules in Alabama’s favor, it could benefit Republicans across the South by making it harder for black Democrats to win seats in Congress and the State House. Supreme Court’s liberals mount defense of Voting Rights Act

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