Conservative Justices Save The Voters Rights Act by Describing Systemic Racism Conditions

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Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal Justices in Allen v. Milligan to reject Alabama’s Congressional district mapping. Their verdict upheld the District Court’s decision ordering the Alabama legislature to create a second Black voting opportunity district.

Black-led community and civil rights organizations had filed two lawsuits alleging that Alabama’s new congressional map perpetuated a long history of discrimination against Black voters by diluting their voting power. They could elect a candidate of their choice in only one of seven districts despite making up around 27 percent of the state’s voting-age population.

The Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 vote not to severely limit the Voting Rights Act’s surprised many court watchers. Congressmember Terri Sewell of Alabama told the progressive group Democracy Now, “Wow! What an amazing victory!” ACLU Voting Rights Project’s Senior staff attorney Davin Rosborough also told Democracy Now that there was “some surprise in the media and in the general public because of the direction the court has been going.” Separately, Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a voting rights expert at Harvard Law School, called the decision “an absolutely stunning development.”

Past SCOTUS votes pointed to conservative justices eliminating the Voting Rights Act.

Past votes by Roberts and Kavanaugh had shrunk the reach of VRA in protecting voting rights. Consequently, they were expected to join the other conservative justices to follow past SCOTUS decisions, eviscerating VRA’s usefulness. In the Allen v. Milligan case before them, the last remaining effective tool, Section 2, which protected minorities’ voting access, could have been eliminated. However, the Act’s federal intervention powers required prior approval before a state adopted new voting rules applied to only nine States (including some additional counties) and was set to expire in 2031.

Kavanaugh’s only vote on a significant VRA case, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021), showed he was critical of the VRA. He and the other five conservative justices voted to overrule a Ninth Circuit Court decision that Arizona’s laws outlawing ballot collection and…