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The Supreme Court, once again, tells Alabama it needs a new congressional map


The U.S. Supreme Court is saying again that Alabama needs a new congressional map. Again and again and again, Alabama legislators have drawn congressional districts. Again and again and again, critics have said the maps violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. Courts, including the Supreme Court, have rejected the state's maps, but Alabama lawmakers keep going. And now the Supreme Court has rejected the state a second time.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been tracking all of this. Hansi, good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: The Supreme Court had already told them that they were wrong.

WANG: That's right. This was the state of Alabama asking for a redo after it lost at the country's highest court and was ordered to draw a new congressional map that is in line with the Voting Rights Act. And to do that, federal courts have said there should be two districts where Black Alabamians have a realistic chance of electing their preferred candidate. But Alabama has been trying and trying to get away with just one opportunity district for Black voters. And now the Supreme Court order basically says, no, Alabama, you still need a new map with two opportunity districts.

INSKEEP: It's remarkable to see some of the quotes from the various court rulings on this. The courts have found Alabama ran last year's election with a, quote, "unlawful map," running an entire election with an unlawful map. Did we get any more details about what Alabama is wrong about from this ruling?

WANG: No, but we should keep in mind that the court put out a majority opinion back in June for this case, and that upheld the court's past rulings on what's known as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

INSKEEP: So what do voting rights experts then make of this finding?

WANG: Well, like you said, we should keep in mind that Alabama has been prolonging this legal fight for more than a year now. And that means that last year's midterm elections in Alabama were held using a map that the courts have ruled was not fair to all voters. And, you know, one way to look at what Alabama has been doing is it's the latest example of a state testing the waters with the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court right now. How open is this court to reinterpreting the Voting Rights Act? And for this Alabama case about Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, not so much, apparently. And this likely final word from the Supreme Court actually could help resolve a couple of other cases in Southern states.

INSKEEP: Oh, are there other states where congressional maps were at issue in similar ways?

WANG: Yes, I'm tracking cases in Georgia and in Louisiana, where there are very similar active voting rights lawsuits. They're also focused on claims that the way Republican-controlled state legislatures drew the lines weaken the power of Black voters. And judges in those cases already found that those claims are likely to be proven out based on the Supreme Court's past rulings on the Voting Rights Act. And how many voting rights experts are interpreting the Supreme Court's latest order is that the underlying message is those judges are on the right track, and it's very likely then for next year's elections, there will be more congressional voting districts in the South where Black voters have realistic opportunity of getting their preferred candidate into office.

INSKEEP: Could that change the partisan balance in Congress?

WANG: Yes, because of how racially polarized voting is in those states, those districts are likely to elect Democrats to the U.S. House, and additional Democratic pickups during next year's elections could help Democrats win back control of the House.

INSKEEP: Hansi, thanks so much.

WANG: You're very welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.