Supreme Court sides with Alabama Republicans despite impact on Black voters

A new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court has major implications for voting rights in this country. The court on Monday reinstated Alabama’s congressional map, one that a lower court had found racially discriminates against Black voters. Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are following a new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, that has important implications for voting rights in this country.

    The court late on Monday reinstated Alabama's congressional map, a map that a lower court had found racially discriminates against Black voters.

    Geoff Bennett has more.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Judy, the ruling from a divided Supreme Court allows Alabama to rely on a congressional map that a lower court said likely denied Black voters in that state an additional member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Republican lawmakers in Alabama drew congressional districts following the 2020 census to give Black voters control of one of seven of the state's congressional seats. And as you can see, the new map has just one majority district — majority-Black district in a state where more than a quarter of the population is African American.

    Now, a three-judge federal panel ruled last month that the arrangement likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court with its ruling further whittling away at that landmark 1965 law.

    Joining us now is Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

    It's good to have you with us.

    And put, if you can, this decision into context for us. The Supreme Court vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts, as you know, joining the court's three liberals in dissent.

    Janai Nelson, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: That's right.

    This court — this case is an incredibly important one when we think about the number of voter suppression laws that are challenging voters of color in this country and the fraught redistricting process that often results in decisions that show that racial gerrymandering is still alive and well, as well as violations of the Voting Rights Act, as you mentioned.

    This case is one that resolves around the map that you displayed where 27 percent of the population of Alabama is African-American, and yet only one to have the seven congressional districts is majority Black.

    We produced — in a seven-at a hearing with 17 witnesses and ample evidence for the court to rely upon, we produced eleven maps to show that there were ways in which the state of Alabama could have drawn its districts in ways that complied with the Voting Rights Act, complied with traditional redistricting principles, and produced two majority-Black districts to elect congressional members.

    Instead, the state of Alabama packed Black voters in a single district. And that denies them an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. We brought this lawsuit not long after the census data was released in August, which sets off the redistricting process. We brought the lawsuit in November. We filed for an injunction in December.

    And the court decided this issue. I don't think the case could have gone any faster. And yet the Supreme Court decided that we were too close in time to the upcoming elections to allow this injunction to stay in place.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    In practical terms, then, what does this mean for voters in Alabama and for voters in other states where there are similar efforts to dilute the voting power of specific groups of people?

  • Janai Nelson:

    You know, Geoff, it means something quite disturbing for our democracy.

    It means that Black voters, in fact, all voters in Alabama, will proceed to the primary elections and then the general elections and vote on district lines that a three-judge federal court has said likely discriminates against Black voters.

    So, the maps that will govern the elections for this upcoming midterm cycle in Alabama are likely racially discriminatory. We believe they actually are. And we will continue to fight this and to go to trial and to continue to press our — the merits of our claim.

    But, unfortunately, our democracy was dealt a serious blow by denying Black voters and voters of Alabama an opportunity to correct their maps appropriately and have lines that are compliant with the Voting Rights Act and that allow an equal opportunity for Black voters to elect their candidates of choice.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    In the less than two minutes that we have left, I want to ask you about this argument that we have been hearing from people who say, race shouldn't be a factor at all.

    In fact, Alabama Congressman Missouri Mo Brooks — he's a Republican — said of this case, he said — quote — "The concept Blacks can only be elected in Black districts and whites should have districts in their own in which they get elected with racist. And I oppose it."

    What about that argument that he's making? What's your pushback to that?

  • Janai Nelson:

    Well, it's quite convenient to suggest that majority-Black districts are somehow problematic, when Black voters are consistently manipulated and packed into districts because of their race, because of how they will vote, and because we want to deny them an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

    And I would only say that this issue went before a three-judge panel that consisted of two appointees from President Trump. All three judges on that panel decided, based on the record evidence, that the maps of Alabama likely discriminate against Black voters.

    So, that is my retort to the idea that race is not a factor in the districts that were drawn by the state of Alabama.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Janai Nelson with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, appreciate your perspectives and your time this evening.

  • Janai Nelson:

    Thank you, Geoff.

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