The Supreme Court issued a brief order Tuesday night that effectively reinstates racially gerrymandered Congressional cards in the state of Louisiana, at least for the 2022 election.
According to those maps, black voters will control just one of Louisiana’s six congressional seats, despite the fact that African Americans make up nearly a third of the state’s population. Thus, the Court’s decision in Ardoin v. Robinson means blacks will have half as much representation in Congress as they would under maps where black voters have as much opportunity to elect their own preferred candidate as whites in Louisiana.
A federal trial court, applying longstanding Supreme Court precedents that the Voting Rights Act does not permit such racial gerrymanders, issued a preliminary injunction temporarily voiding the Louisiana cards and ordering the state legislature to draw new ones that include two majority black districts. Notably, a very conservative panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected the state’s request to stay the trial court’s decision – a sign that the Louisiana maps were a violation. so clear of the Voting Rights Act that even one of the most conservative appellate courts in the nation found no good reason to overturn the trial court’s decision.
As the Fifth Circuit explained, current law generally prohibits cards that dilute the voting power of a particular racial group, at least when that group is “large and compact enough to form a majority” in other districts. of Congress, when it “votes consistently” and when “whites tend to vote as a bloc” to defeat the minority group’s preferred candidates.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 along party lines to stay the trial court’s injunction, thus restoring the gerrymandered cards. The court order is just one page long, and it provides no substantive explanation of why court-appointed Republicans voted to strip black Louisianans of half their representation in the House of Representatives. the United States.
The Supreme Court’s order in Ardoin does, however, contain a clue as to what might be going on in the heads of the conservative judges: it refers to a decision last winter regarding a similar case in Alabama.
Last February, the Court issued an order in Merrill v. Milligan which temporarily reinstated maps in Alabama that a panel of three federal judges determined to be illegally racist. According to those maps, black voters have a real chance of determining who represents just one of Alabama’s seven districts — or 14% of those districts. Meanwhile, African Americans make up about 27% of the state’s population. Thus, the maps of Alabama, just like the maps of Louisiana which the Court has just temporarily restored in Ardoingive blacks about half the representation they should have based on their share of the state’s total population.
The Court will hear argument at the Merrill case in October, and then he will decide to make his temporary order permanent in this case — allowing Alabama to use its racist card until the next round of redistricting begins in the 2030s.
Additionally, in March, the Court voted to strike down Wisconsin state legislative maps, warning that those maps may have given too much influence on black voters. This decision suggested that before a state could voluntarily decide to add an additional black majority district, it should consider “whether a racially neutral alternative that does not add [one more] black district would deprive black voters of equal political opportunity.
The new court order in Ardoin declares that the judges will keep the Louisiana case “pending the decision of this Court” in Merrill. In other words, the Court seems to consider Ardoin and Merrill as very similar cases, and he most likely plans to enact a new rule governing cases of racial gerrymandering that will resolve both cases.
Taken together, the Court’s orders in Merrill, Ardoin, and the Wisconsin case suggest judges are skeptical of the current rules, which offer fairly strong protections against racial gerrymandering, and plan to replace those rules with a new regime that’s likely less favorable to black voters — and more probably to minority voters in general. None of these three orders have been particularly well explained, but the pattern is that in each case the Court has ruled against efforts to draw maps that expand black political power.
It’s unclear what this new regime will look like — again, none of the Court’s three recent racial gerrymandering decisions are particularly fleshed out. And it is at least theoretically possible that the Court’s final decision in Merrill will maintain current law and invalidate Alabama cards.
But the Republican majority on the court is notoriously hostile to suffrage claimants and the Voting Rights Act in particular. So the future of US election law is likely to be much more hostile to black (and other minority) interests than the current law.