The Supreme Court’s recent opinion remanding a challenge by Black state officials to the 2012 Alabama Legislative district map back to a federal district court is relatively short for a majority opinion but chock full of legal nuggets as the justices’ focused on several bases for returning this case back to a lower court to reconsider its ruling against the plaintiffs.
In all, the decision discussed four distinct issues; two procedural and two substantive – it felt the lower court bungled. If we had to explain the four corners of the Alabama opinion in one sentence it would be; The two plaintiffs: Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and Alabama Democratic Conference put together, made a reasonably strong case for racial gerrymandering in Alabama, but separately their pleadings were lacking, and while the Supreme Court majority acknowledges this in its opinion, it was not satisfied with letting sleeping dogs lie.
The 5-4 majority agreed that the substantive issue in this case; mainly whether Alabama’s legislative map is a racial gerrymander, was worth delving into despite the procedural imperfections that underlie the case. Indeed, the chasm between the majority and the dissent in this case is the extent to which the complaints failed to make their theory of racial gerrymandering clear. The majority paints a picture of a flawed but viable claim worth exploring and the dissent found no reason to get to any substantive issues based on the procedural shortcomings of the plaintiffs.
Specifically, the majority addresses the lower court’s treatment of 1) The Alabama Democratic Conference’s standing to sue; 2) Application of the Legislative Black Caucus’s claim of statewide racial gerrymander; 3) Whether racial goals predominated the linedrawer’s calculations when drawing the map; and 4) Whether the mapdrawer’s activities would have ultimately survived a strict scrutiny analysis by a court.
We delve into all four issues in the coming weeks in this series devoted to unraveling the courts’ opinion in Alabama Leg. Black Caucus v. Alabama. Below are the facts of the case:
- Alabama has total of 105 House and 35 senate districts
- 35 are majority-minority districts (MMD’s). 8 Senate and 27 House.
- Alabama population deviation requirements were stricter than required under the U.S. Const. (1% deviation)
- Officials believed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required maintaining current minority population percentages in all Majority-minority districts (MMD) to avoid retrogression under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
- Many MMD’s were already very underpopulated.
- MMD’s were packed with even more Black voters for the sake of maintaining both 1% population deviations and maintaining black percentages in those districts.