WASHINGTON, D.C., March 26, 2015 –- The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) welcomes Wednesday’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. The Supreme Court vacated a decision by a three-judge federal court that had dismissed racial gerrymandering claims brought by two African American organizations against Alabama’s 2012 redistricting plans for the state house and state senate.
Wednesday’s decision closely tracked the analysis and approach laid out in the Lawyers’ Committee’s August 20, 2014, amicus brief to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not make a final decision on the claims in the case, but remanded the case back to the district court to receive additional evidence and to review the claims under the proper legal principles.
“This case raises very serious issues about the gerrymandering of African American citizens and the misuse of the Voting Rights Act by the State of Alabama“, said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “The Supreme Court rightly followed its precedents in allowing African American plaintiffs to press this type of constitutional claim. With the benefit of the Supreme Court’s guidance, the district court can now reach a just and proper resolution of the case.”
The lawsuit involves claims by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference that the State’s redistricting plans went out of their way to concentrate African American voters into majority-minority districts, far in excess of what was required by the Voting Rights Act or other legal authority.
The Supreme Court’s decision was written by Justice Stephen Breyer and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Breyer identified four principal legal errors in the lower court’s ruling: 1) the failure to conduct a district-specific analysis of the redistricting plan’s treatment of minority voters; 2) the finding that the Alabama Democratic Conference lacked standing to sue; 3) the district court’s confusion of compliance with the constitutional requirement of equal district population (one-person one-vote) with evidence of non-racial motivation; and 4) a misreading of the preclearance standards under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The Supreme Court noted substantial evidence of racial gerrymandering affecting several districts that the district court had failed to take into account as a result of these legal errors. The Supreme Court also rejected the lower court’s finding that Section 5 could require Alabama to racially gerrymander its new district boundaries in order to maintain the same African Americans percentages in existing majority-minority districts, even where such extreme measures were not needed to protect the ability of African American citizens to elect candidates of their choice.
The court’s decision in the Alabama case is likely to have an important impact on similar cases being heard involving North Carolina, Virginia and other states.