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Alabama ruling could help Democrats in multiple states

Voting Rights Act challenges also pending in Louisiana, Georgia and Texas

Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., speaks during the Congressional Black Caucus’s National Summit on Democracy & Race on May 9. She is seated between Reps. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, right, and Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., speaks during the Congressional Black Caucus’s National Summit on Democracy & Race on May 9. She is seated between Reps. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, right, and Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court’s ruling that Alabama’s congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act could lead to new Democratic-leaning districts in several states and influence the battle for control of the House next year. 

The ruling said Alabama had to create another district where Black voters could influence the election, but there is similar pending litigation in other southern states. In a narrowly divided Congress, it could also add to the relatively small number of competitive races by breaking up what were once safe GOP seats. 

Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell, the state’s only Democrat in Congress, said she expected the new lines would be in place for the 2024 election, but also raised the possibility of a special election with a new map before then.

“My expectation is that given that there may be irreparable harm by not immediately redrawing the lines, that there may be a chance that this is drawn and through a special election earlier than the 2024 election,” Sewell said on a press call. “But I fully expect the 2024 election will be with the new lines.”

A federal district court ruled in January 2022 that Alabama’s map had violated the Voting Rights Act by creating only one Black-majority district, but that ruling was put on hold a month later by the Supreme Court, requiring the 2022 election to be held using the disputed lines. On Thursday, the high court upheld the lower-court in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Sewell, who lives in Birmingham, said she expects to run again in the 7th District, but acknowledged that her district could change under a new map.

“Would I love it to include Selma and Marion and Wilcox County and really keep the seat that I currently have? Yes. But I know that that’s not possible in order to create two majority districts,” she said. “It’s a small price to pay to carve up my district in order to be able to have two majority minority districts.”

After the ruling, the Cook Political Report changed its ratings from Solid Republican to Toss-up for Alabama Republicans Jerry Carl and Barry Moore. The ratings site acknowledged it could not tell at this point which member would become most vulnerable, and made similar rating changes for Louisiana Republican Reps. Julia Letlow and Garret Graves

Three pickups possible

Inside Elections also noted similar litigation could change the map in Georgia.

“Because voting is so racially polarized — especially in the South — the creation of more majority-Black districts is highly likely to result in more Democratic-won seats,” Inside Elections reported. “Democrats could have the opportunity to pick up three seats across these states, depending on how quickly the legal processes play out.”  

Democrats would need to flip five seats next year to take the majority if the party wins a special election in September to replace Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, who resigned earlier this month, and Republicans in November hold onto the seat of Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, who is resigning in September. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee said it would still grow the party’s majority through next year’s elections despite the potential for new Democratic-leaning districts.

“After losing their House majority by doubling down on an extreme policy agenda, Democrats’ transparent political strategy to rig the game is to ‘sue ’til it’s blue,’” Jack Pandol, the group’s communications director, said in a statement. “Republicans will grow our majority in spite of Democrats’ legal end-runs around the voters who rejected their policies last November.”

But Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the ruling “monumental” and said the decision would “affect redistricting cases across the country and help deliver a House of Representatives that better reflects the diversity of our nation, ensuring all voices are represented equally.”

NC, Ohio could help GOP

New district maps expected in some states could help Republicans, especially in Ohio and North Carolina. Democrats, meanwhile, are also trying to use shifts in the makeup of state Supreme Courts to get new maps ordered in Wisconsin and New York.

Thursday’s ruling could have a direct effect on ongoing litigation in Louisiana. Democratic Gov. Jon Bel Edwards noted there is currently only one VRA district despite the state’s substantial Black population, and a pending lawsuit argues that there should be two.

“As I said when I vetoed it, Louisiana’s current congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act. Louisiana’s voting population is one-third Black. We know that in compliance with the principles of the Voting Rights Act, Louisiana can and should have a congressional map where two of our six districts are majority Black,” Edwards said. “Today’s decision reaffirms that.”

There’s also active litigation, highlighted by Democracy Docket, in Georgia and Texas that pertains to legislative maps. And the Supreme Court is also set to rule on how South Carolina’s 1st District was drawn. Republican Rep. Nancy Mace flipped the seat in 2020, ousting Democrat Joe Cunningham, who had flipped it in 2018.

“Once implemented in Alabama and applied in SC and other states, more communities will have an opportunity to elect representatives of their choice, as the law guarantees,” Assistant House Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina said on Twitter.

The ruling is also leading to renewed calls by some Democrats, including the Congressional Black Caucus, to pass stronger voting rights legislation. A measure passed the House in the two previous, Democrat-led Congresses, but stalled in the Senate. The League of Conservation Voters’ democracy program director, Justin Kwasa, said the ruling was correct, but that more work was needed.

“Voters should be choosing their representatives, not the other way around, and we must remain vigilant against ongoing and future threats to our democracy from the far-right,” he said in a statement.

President Joe Biden also cited the need to pass more legislation in praising the ruling.

“Today’s decision confirms the basic principle that voting practices should not discriminate on account of race, but our work is not done,” Biden said.