WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Feb. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed (meaning paused) a district court’s preliminary injunction requiring Alabama to draw a new congressional map that contains two majority-Black districts. This means that the state’s current map — which only contains one majority-Black district — will effectively be in place for the 2022 elections. The 5-4 order, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices, comes after a district court blocked the state’s current congressional map and ordered the creation of a new map with two majority-Black districts on Jan. 24. The district court held that the plaintiffs were likely to prove that the enacted map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because a second majority-Black district should have been drawn. The state immediately appealed this decision and both cases wound up before the Supreme Court on emergency applications to pause the lower court’s ruling.
In granting the emergency application today, the Court’s five justices paused the preliminary injunction pending further action by the Court. This order is not a ruling on the merits of the cases, but it does effectively ensure that Black voters will only make up a majority of one of seven congressional districts in a state with a 27% Black population. In his concurrence, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, stated that he voted to stay the preliminary injunctions because Alabama’s election schedule is fast approaching and altering district lines now could cause “significant cost, confusion, or hardship.” In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, points out that the state’s primary election is four months away, with absentee voting scheduled to begin at the end of March — two months after the district court’s preliminary injunction rulings. Given the strong factual record before the district court — which Alabama did not challenge on appeal — Kagan asserts that “To reverse that decision requires upsetting the way Section 2 plaintiffs have for decades—and in line with our caselaw—proved vote-dilution claims.” Kagan admonishes the Court’s majority for granting the stay without full briefing or argument, writing that the decision “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.”