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Rightwing Supreme Court Crazies ... Uphold What's Left Of Voting Rights Act? Wait, Really?
Kidding! The rightwing crazies were simply in the minority.
The US Supreme Court, if you are ready to believe it, threw out an Alabama voting map because it diluted the voting power of Black voters. In a very surprising 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that creating only a single majority-Black congressional district and then parceling out much of the state's Black population into majority-white districts was bad, actually. The Court upheld an appeals court decision finding that the congressional district map violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act , and for now at least, leaves what remains of the VRA in place.
The map will now have to be redrawn without a racial gerrymander, although thanks to a stay the Supremes issued when they took the case last year, Alabama's 2022 midterm elections took place under the map that was tossed out today, so it did its job for a little while. Democrats won the sole Black-majority district, while Republicans took the other six.
The Court rejected Alabama's reverse-racism contention that any race-conscious districting would be "discriminatory" by harming white people's voting rights. As you may recall, in oral arguments on the case, then newly minted Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson took the Court to school on voting rights, noting that the "original intent" of the authors of the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act was all about protecting Black voters, not some mythical "neutrality" on race.
Chief Justice John Roberts, the architect of the Court's previous eviscerations of the Voting Rights Act, was joined by Brett Kavanaugh in voting with the Court's three sane members, Jackson, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.
But before the VRA lets itself get too comfortable, it should keep in mind that Roberts's majority opinion still leaves open the possibility that the Court might later grab a scalpel and neuter it yet again, which seems like veterinary malpractice if you ask us. Roberts warned that there remain legitimate worries that Section 2 of the VRA "may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power within the states." It's simply that in the Alabama case, the Court decided not to pull the trigger:
Our opinion today does not diminish or disregard these concerns. It simply holds that a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here.
Not that we'd ever be cynical, but maybe some far worse decision is on the way in the Court's end-of-term Parade of Horribles, and Roberts figured he'll have plenty of chances in the future to finally bury voting rights once and for all.
For the moment, though, supporters of voting rights celebrated the rare victory, or possibly reprieve.
“Today’s decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections, and preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on their race,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
Abha Khanna, a lawyer for plaintiffs who challenged the maps, said the court had correctly struck down a "textbook violation" of the Voting Rights Act.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, on the other hand, twirled his Snidely Whiplash mustache before donning his cape and top hat and swearing he'd be back, just you wait and see. Marshall said in a brief statement, "Although the majority’s decision is disappointing, this case is not over," which seems to hint at another, more tricksy voter disenfranchisement effort with better plausible deniability. Also, fine, Marshall is clean-shaven, which is a pretty clever disguise for a melodrama villain.
In a dissent, we assumed Clarence Thomas wrote that he loves money and free vacations, and you can't stop him because he has this job for life, fuckers. But then when we read a bit more we saw he actually wrote that there's no way in the world that the VRA requires Alabama to let Black voters "control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population," and that even if the VRA said that, it'd be unconstitutional so there. In his ideal world, one ruled by rich donors, he explained that he "would resolve these cases in a way that would not require the Federal Judiciary to decide the correct racial apportionment of Alabama’s congressional seats," which for all we know is a signal that he yearns for that "independent state legislature" crap that would forbid any court from questioning a legislature's voting rules, no matter how discriminatory.
Thomas griped that the appeals court ruling upheld by the majority treats Section 2 of the VRA as "nothing more than a racial entitlement to roughly proportional control of elective offices [...] wherever different racial groups consistently prefer different candidates," and that such a horrible thing is clearly unconstitutional. It's a very snotty dissent and we don't like this Clarence Thomas fellow at all, he's an asshole the end.
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