Voter Disenfranchisement Part 1: SCOTUS and Black voters

From the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the issuance of several controversial opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court made numerous headlines over the last month. So many consequential opinions were set forth last month that a SCOTUS voting rights opinion flew under the radar. Spoiler alert: SCOTUS disenfranchised Black voters in Louisiana, just as they did with Black voters in Alabama earlier this year. They’re poised to upend our electoral system as we know it by taking further steps to diminish the power of protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On June 28, the court released the decision from the shadow docket, a highly criticized avenue through which SCOTUS issues emergency decisions without explanation. Through usage of such shadow docket, the court reversed the decision of a federal judge who struck down Louisiana Republicans’ new congressional district proposal.

Judge Shelly Dick’s prior ruling asserted that Louisiana Republicans’ proposal likely violated the Voting Rights Act because the map has only one majority Black district while the population of Louisiana is around one-third Black. With six congressional districts, a fair map in Louisiana would include two majority Black districts. The conservative members of SCOTUS provided no  reasoning for staying the proceedings as they noted they would hold the case until a similar case from Alabama is argued this fall.

This is now the second time this year conservative members of SCOTUS chose to block lower court orders, allowing racially gerrymandered maps to stand. Earlier this year in Alabama, SCOTUS allowed a map with one Black district out of seven, despite Alabama’s population also being approximately one-third Black.

Thanks to SCOTUS, Alabama and Louisiana voters participating this fall will vote under racially gerrymandered maps. The liberals on the bench, in both instances, voted to have fair maps re-drawn. However, they were outnumbered by the conservative justices who have proven to be indifferent toward, if not in favor of, diluting the power of Black voters.

Although the court has yet to officially rule on the merits of these cases, the majority conservative bench has a poor track record when it comes to upholding voting rights. There’s little reason to be confident that SCOTUS will protect the voting power of Black folks.

In addition to the other two gerrymandering cases, SCOTUS is set to hear arguments in Moore v. Harper this fall. After North Carolina’s highest court struck down a racially gerrymandered congressional map, the North Carolina General Assembly argued that it alone can regulate the state’s elections without oversight from the state’s court.

Electoral and legal scholars are sounding the alarm about this case for good reason. Should SCOTUS decide in favor of the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine,” argument set forth by the North Carolina General Assembly, our democratic processes will be forever changed. The Brennan Center for Justice summarized potential negative implications of the case, saying it “could make it easier for state legislatures to suppress the vote, draw unfair election districts, and enable partisan interference in ballot counting.”

From Alabama, to Louisiana, to North Carolina, state legislatures across the country work hard to disenfranchise Black voters and discount the weight of our votes. Gerrymandering is nothing new, but the fight now looms larger in anticipation of potentially catastrophic SCOTUS cases. Call your senators and representatives and demand they support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act because we need bold action before it’s too late.

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