In Dissent, Kagan Says Alabama Voting Map Does 'Disservice' to Black People

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan issued a blistering dissent after the court ruled to uphold a GOP-drawn congressional map in Alabama, saying it would do a "disservice" to Black voters.

In a 5-4 decision, the court stated that the map, which was previously drawn by Alabama Republicans, could remain in place for the foreseeable future until the full case is heard by the high court. This halts a previous decision from a lower federal court that stated the redrawn map could not be used because it likely violated the Voting Rights Act.

This violation came, the lower court said, because the Republican map gives Black voters political control in only a single district. This means that they would be able to select just 14 percent of the state's congressional delegation, despite Alabama having the fifth-highest percentage of Black residents in the country.

Although the lower court had ordered the creation of a new map, the Supreme Court's decision now means that the GOP-led map will be used for the state's primaries. Although the court will hear oral arguments on the case, the map will likely also be used for the November general election, making it significantly harder for the Democratic Party to capture an additional seat in the House of Representatives.

Elena Kagan
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan issued a blistering dissent following the court's decision to uphold an Alabama congressional map that a previous ruling said was skewed against the Voting Rights Act. The full case will be heard by the Supreme Court at a later time. Here, Kagan can be seen during a Supreme Court photo op. Erin Schaff/Getty

The Supreme Court's decision fell along party lines, with all conservative justices voting to uphold the map. Kagan was joined in her dissenting vote by the court's two other liberal justices, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, who is often a swing vote.

In her dissenting opinion, Kagan blasted her conservative colleagues for voting in the GOP map's favor, stating that it would hurt enfranchisement efforts in Alabama—a state the most recent census estimates is 27 percent Black.

"Alabama is not entitled to keep violating Black Alabamians' voting rights
just because the court's order came down in the first month of an election year," Kagan wrote in her dissent. This Court is wrong to stay that decision based on a hastily made and wholly unexplained prejudgment that it is ready to change the law."

"That decision does a disservice to our own appellate processes, which serve both to constrain and to legitimate the Court's authority," Kagan continued. It does a disservice to the District Court, which meticulously applied this Court's longstanding voting-rights precedent. And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy."

This sentiment was shared by liberal politicians throughout the state.

Chris England, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, said in a statement following the decision that "the canary in the coal mine just died."

"If there was ever a time for Congress to act on voting rights legislation, now would be it," England continued. "Make no mistake, this is not a good outcome. Tonight, we will feel the sorrow that comes from watching our forbearers' hard-won work be wiped out with the stroke of a pen from the shadows."

While liberals seemed to almost unanimously disagree with the use of the map, the Supreme Court's decision was welcomed by some in Alabama, including a number of Republican politicians in the state. One of them, Representative Mo Brooks, told AL.com that "skin pigmentation" shouldn't factor into voting.

"These liberal activist judges have tried to segregate us based on race, I find that abominable, in order to elect people in certain parts of the state based on race, which I also think is abominable," Brooks added.

In a statement to Newsweek, the Alabama chapter of the NAACP said it was "very disappointed in the SCOTUS decision."

"This decision supports the suppression of Black Voters in Alabama and violates the [tenets] of the Voting Rights Act of 1965," the statement continued. "The SCOTUS did not rule on the merit of the case, but because of time constraints allowed the State map to stand, essentially throwing out the decision of the lower court who actually heard arguments.

"The NAACP looks forward to the oral arguments in this case in the fall and while it will not affect the 2022 elections, we believe the SCOTUS will rule in our favor once they hear the arguments."

Newsweek has also reached out to the Supreme Court for comment.

Update (02/08/2022, 4:15 p.m. ET): This story has been updated with a statement from the Alabama NAACP.