The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the State of Alabama must redraw its districting boundaries, reaffirming a district court ruling.
A 5-4 ruling in the case of Wes Allen, Alabama Secretary of State, et al., Appellants v. Evan Milligan, et al., penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, affirmed “the District Court’s determination that plaintiffs demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim” that Alabama’ redistricting legislation violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As the Justice Department explains, Section 2 “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.” The 1980 SCOTUS case of Mobile v. Bolden declared that Section 2 “was a restatement of the protections afforded by the 15th Amendment.”
The Court ruled on June 8, 2023, that “the District Court faithfully applied this Court’s precedents” regarding past SCOTUS rulings on voting rights and declined “to remake its Section 2 jurisprudence in line with Alabama’s ‘race-neutral benchmark’ theory.”
Chief Justice Roberts was joined in full by Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Jackson, and joined in part by Justice Kavanaugh, who also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas (joined in part by Justices Barrett and Gorsuch) and Justice Alito (joined in part by Justice Gorsuch) filed dissenting opinions.
Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in the case and executive director of Alabama Forward, spoke with Good Faith Media’s Mitch and Missy Randall, on Nov. 18, 2022, for an interview about the case and voting rights on the Good Faith Weekly podcast. Milligan was joined on the podcast by two other voting rights advocates, Shalela Dowdy and Letitia Jackson, who were also involved in the legal challenges to Alabama’s districting maps.
Milligan explained that many traditional minorities leave Alabama each year due, in part, to a lack of opportunity to become public servants and policy advocates as the result of restrictive voting practices and a single majority-Black district.
“Having a second opportunity district where Black communities can elect a candidate of choice … won’t solve all of these issues, but it does create a pipeline that can address some of the issues. And it does offer more chances for leadership development, both for aspiring candidates and … for the electorate,” he said in the November 2022 GFW interview. “If all we have are city council races, and maybe mayor, maybe county commission, well our political factions … never evolve past a certain point of the game.”
Milligan continued: “That stifles not only the development of individuals, but also the development of entire communities to really think about the future trajectory of their state and of the communities and counties and regions of this state. And those are things that are unfairly denied to many Alabamians solely because we’re Black. … Respect[ing] our right to vote is something we should have closed the door on in 1965.”
The case originated after the Alabama legislature adopted HB1 in 2021. This legislation related to new districting maps that provided only a single majority-Black district, the same number since 1992.
Multiple plaintiffs filed suit over the maps, arguing that they were not in keeping with population growth trends that necessitated a second majority-Black district. The cases also argued that the maps violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Two of these cases were combined, ultimately making their way to the Supreme Court in the case of Allen v. Milligan (formerly Merrill v. Milligan).
“The District Court correctly found that black voters could constitute a majority in a second district that was ‘reasonably configured,’” the majority opinion stated.
“The District Court concluded that plaintiffs had carried their burden at the totality of circumstances stage given the racial polarization of elections in Alabama, where ‘Black Alabamians enjoy virtually zero success in statewide elections’ and where ‘Alabama’s extensive history of repugnant racial and voting-related discrimination is undeniable and well-documented,’” the opinion said. “The Court sees no reason to disturb the District Court’s careful factual findings, which are subject to clear error review and have gone unchallenged by Alabama in any event.”
In a statement to the press following the ruling, Milligan said: “We are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld what we knew to be true: that everyone deserves to have their vote matter and their voice heard. Today is a win for democracy and freedom not just in Alabama but across the United States.”
Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), described the decision as a “crucial victory for voting rights, freedom and democracy!”
Darcy Hirsh, senior director of policy and advocacy at Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement: “Today’s ruling reaffirms the landmark Voting Rights Act and honors the hard-fought right to vote. As the late Rep. John Lewis reminds us: ‘The vote is precious. It is almost sacred.’ As an organization working to achieve a pluralistic vision of religious freedom and an inclusive democracy, we are steadfast in our commitment to oppose any effort to deny voter access.”
“Measures that dilute or deprive meaningful participation in our democratic system, like the Alabama legislature’s discriminatory attempt to dilute the power of Black voters, are an affront to our common cause for freedom, justice, and equality. For our democracy to work for all of us, it must include all of us,” she said. “Voting is at its core the most fundamental way to participate in our democracy and to make our voices heard. As people of faith and no faith, we have a moral duty to ensure that the law guarantees an equal right to vote, regardless of who you are and which party you choose.”
Alabama Arise, a member-led, public-policy organization whose membership includes multiple faith groups across the state, tweeted: “This decision is an enormous victory for democracy and #votingrights in Alabama and across the country.”
Greater Birmingham Ministries, a multi-faith organization founded in 1969, posted a link to an Associated Press report on the SCOTUS ruling on its Facebook page with the comment: “The struggle continues, but we’ll take the win!”