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The US Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a racially-charged case involving the rights of Black voters. headline news
The case involves the 1965 Voting Rights Act and a congressional redistricting map in the southern state of Alabama that critics say diminishes the influence of African American voters.
The Voting Rights Act is intended to prevent racial discrimination against minorities in voting and a ruling in the Alabama case by the conservative-dominated court could potentially limit its scope.
The Alabama case concerns a map that was redrawn in 2021 by Alabama’s Republican majority legislature to allocate seats in the US House of Representatives.
Under the map, Black voters — who represent around a quarter of registered voters state-wide — are in a majority in only one of seven congressional districts.
Citizens and rights groups took the matter to court, accusing legislators of violating civil rights laws which prohibit diluting the African American vote in this way.
The new map, they say, cuts through the middle of a predominantly Black region, the “Black Belt,” and splits it in two, and Alabama should have created a second district with a Black majority instead.
The stakes are particularly high in the state, where African Americans vote mostly Democratic, while white voters mostly support Republicans.
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“It’s one of the great achievements of American democracy,” Justice Elena Kagan, one of the three liberals on the nine-member court, said of the Voting Rights Act during Tuesday’s arguments.
The act seeks to provide “equal political opportunities regardless of race to ensure that African Americans could have as much political power as white Americans could,” Kagan said.
- ‘Race-neutral’ –
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the high court, pushed back against arguments by Alabama officials that congressional district maps be drawn up on “race-neutral” principles.
Jackson noted that constitutional amendments passed after the US Civil War were intended to ensure that former slaves “were brought equal to everyone else in society.”
“That’s not a race neutral or race blind idea in terms of the remedy,” she said. “I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required.”
Earlier this year, a lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Alabama case and ordered local officials to turn in a new copy of the map.
Republican officials then turned to the Supreme Court.
In February, five of the nine judges allowed them to keep the 2021 map for now — and thus for the US mid-term elections in November — while postponing consideration of the merits of the case until Tuesday.
The Alabama case is one of several the court will hear this term revolving around race.
Later this month, the court is to hear arguments on the use of race in deciding who gets to attend Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
Harvard and UNC, like many other US institutions of higher education, use race as a factor in trying to ensure a diverse student body and to make up for a legacy of racial discrimination against African Americans and Hispanics.
The court has ruled previously in favor of affirmative action but it has long been in the cross-hairs of the right and its opponents believe the current court will be receptive to their arguments.
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