Allen v. Milligan: A Triumph in the Fight Against Voting Suppression
On Thursday, June 8, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Alabama’s congressional map weakened the voting power of Black residents. This 5-4 majority opinion reaffirmed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been under fire in recent years from other SCOTUS decisions. One such decision was Shelby County v. Holder (2012), which effectively discarded Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This section protects voting rights by requiring states with a history of racial discrimination or gerrymandering to get an advance certification in regard to any election change. This decision was viewed by voting rights advocates as “undermining a law regarded as the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in American history.”
The Allen v. Milligan case originated when civil rights advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Secretary of State and the co-chairs of the State Legislature's redistricting committee on November 16, 2021. The plaintiffs argued that the congressional map created by the Alabama Legislature’s Committee on Reapportionment, signed into law as HB1, represented racial gerrymandering and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The plaintiff’s overarching argument was that the redistricting map was created with the intent to racially discriminate against Alabama’s Black voters, and therefore violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
The map of the seven districts in the redistricting efforts only included one congressional district with a Black majority. This was the area of HB1 that the civil rights organizations disputed, as per the 2020 census the population of Black voting-age citizens had increased to 26%. However, this increase was not reflected in the redistricting. The Alabama district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on January 24, 2022, and ordered that an updated redistricting plan be passed within 14 days. However, on February 7, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the decision of the lower court awaiting their decision, which allowed the unchanged plan to be used in the 2022 election.
In the majority opinion of this case, Chief Justice John Roberts affirmed the 2022 opinion of the District Court of Alabama that the redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Joining Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion were Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kaga, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh. The support of both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh came as a surprise to experts, especially since Justice Kananaugh voted in the majority to block the actions of the district court in 2022. However, Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion and Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring remarks did not include any mention of the 14th Amendment, despite this being one of the plaintiff’s major arguments. Instead, the majority opinion seems to treat this a Fifteenth Amendment case.
The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, and was joined in the dissenting opinion by Justices Samuel Alito, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barret. In his dissent, Justice Thomas asserted that the majority opinion did not remedy unconstitutional discrimination and stated that, “the plaintiffs’ mapmaking experts left little doubt that their plans prioritized race over neutral districting criteria.” In his mind, the requirement that at least two districts have a Black majority would result in more attention paid to race in the redistricting than if districts were drawn with neutral districting criteria.
This decision was viewed as an “unprecedented victory” for black voters and communities that reaffirms the country and lawmakers’ dedication to protecting voting rights of minority and historically oppressed groups. As the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has had less success in the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years, many voters and advocacy groups were fearful of this case’s outcome. However, the success in this case seems to have empowered those in the fight against voting suppression and discrimination. Anna Dennis, the executive director of Common Cause told CNN, “I don’t think it’s going to stop Republicans from drawing racist maps. But I think that this empowers those of us pushing back."