By Ian Millhiser
Alabama’s legislative maps, which minimized black voters’ influence by packing these voters into a small number of districts, will get another day in court thanks to a 5-4 decision — Justice Anthony Kennedy crossed over to vote with the Court’s liberal bloc — that the Supreme Court handed down on Wednesday. Though the Court’s decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama does not necessarily ensure that the state’s maps will be struck down, it rejects a lower court’s reasoning which upheld the unusual, racially focused method the state used in drawing many of its districts.
As Justice Stephen Breyer explains in the Court’s opinion, Alabama’s maps were the product of two considerations. First, the state “sought to minimize the extent to which a district might deviate from the theoretical ideal of precisely equal population” with respect to the state’s other districts (a goal Breyer characterizes as desirable). Additionally, the state purported to believe that it was required, under the Voting Rights Act, to “maintain roughly the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts.” Thus, for example, after determining that one overwhelmingly black district needed an additional 16,000 voters to comply with the goal of equal population, “Alabama’s plan added 15,785 new individuals, and only 36 of those newly added individuals were white.”