Chief Justice John Roberts (R) and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh (L) joined the court's three liberal justices, including Associate Justice Elena Kagan (bottom) in saying the Alabama electoral map went too far and illegally diluted Black voting power and must be redrawn. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
June 8 (UPI) -- In a surprise decision on Thursday, a mix of liberal and conservative Supreme Court justices ruled Alabama Republicans discriminated against Black voters in their redrawn congressional district map, siding with civil-rights activists and upholding key provisions in the Voting Rights Act.
Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices on the high court in agreeing that the Alabama map went too far in illegally diluting Black voting power and must be redrawn. Many expected the court to rule along its 6-3 conservative-liberal makeup in the state's favor.
Under the new Republican-drawn map, Black voters only have a realistic chance of winning one of the seven congressional districts (14%) despite having a voting-age population that represents more than 27% of the state.
Roberts wrote in the 34-page majority opinion that there are fears that the Voting Rights Act "may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power" and the ruling "does not diminish or disregard those concerns."
He said the court "simply holds that a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here."
"Today's decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections and preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on their race," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement after the Supreme Court's decision was announced.
"The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow."
The Supreme Court also appeared to side with a three-judge appeals court panel, which included two Trump appointees, that ruled unanimously that Alabama should have created two minority-leaning districts, under the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
The panel accused Alabama Republicans of packing the majority of the state's Black voters into a single district while placing the rest in districts where they would not have any meaningful power along racial lines.
Alabama lawmakers argued they did draw lines in a race-neutral way and that justice could only intervene by proving intentional discrimination.
President Joe Biden celebrated the decision in a statement, saying the right to vote and have that vote counted "is sacred and fundamental."
"Today's decision confirms that basic principle that voting practices should not discriminate on account race, but our work is not done," he said, vowing to continue to fight to pass legislation to strengthen voting rights and ensure congressional maps and fair "and that all Americans have their voices heard."
The NAACP described the ruling as a "historic win for voting rights" amid continued attacks on democracy.
"This decision is a crucial win against the continued onslaught of attacks on voting rights," NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross, who argued the case before the court in October, said in a statement Thursday.
"Alabama attempted to rewrite federal law by saying race could not be considered in the redistricting process even when necessary to remedy racial discrimination. But because of the state's sordid and well-documented pattern of persisting racial discrimination, race must be considered to ensure communities of color are not boxed out of the electoral process."