The Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority Wants to Gut the Voting Rights Act—Again

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The justices could undercut the VRA for a third time, supercharging racial gerrymandering.

“Violations of the [Voting Rights Act] should not be made too easy to prove,” a young John Roberts wrote when he worked in the Reagan administration in 1982, “since they provide a basis for the most intrusive interference imaginable by federal courts into state and local processes.”

Forty years later, the court’s conservative majority seems set to complete Roberts’ crusade against the country’s most important civil rights law, severely weakening it from every angle.

In 2013, the Roberts Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer needed to have changes to their voting laws and electoral boundaries approved by the federal government, which opened the floodgates to a wave of new voter suppression efforts. Eight years later, the court made it far more difficult to strike down laws that disadvantage minority voters.

On Tuesday, the court heard a new challenge to the federal Voting Rights Act from Alabama—where civil rights protests in the 1960s inspired passage of the law—that could lead to a huge rollback in representation for communities of color.

Alabama has a Black population of 27 percent, but just one of the state’s seven congressional districts are reasonably likely to elect a candidate favored by Black voters. Civil rights groups sued during the most recent redistricting cycle and said the failure of the state to draw a second majority-Black district violated the VRA. A three-judge panel that included two appointees of Donald Trump agreed, writing that “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”

But in a 5-4 shadow docket opinion last February, the Supreme Court reinstated Alabama’s original redistricting plan for the midterms.

Now, in Merrill v. Mulligan, the justices appear poised to go further. The court has already refused to strike down partisan gerrymandering; it could soon super-charge racial gerrymandering.

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