VOTING RIGHTS, SUPREME COURT

All Hail the Chief Justice?

Redistricting ruling is welcome; court’s direction uncertain

Vanessa Gallman
3 min readJun 10, 2023

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Image by DonkeyHotey on Flickr

The June 8 Supreme Court ruling that Alabama must redraw its congressional map to allow more representation of Black voters was a surprising, but welcome, reinforcement of democracy. It will boost similar redistricting battles in Louisiana, Georgia and Texas.

“I’m excited about what it means for African-American voters in my state,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell, a Black woman who is the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, told reporters. “But I’m also excited about what it means for minority voters at large in this nation. They deserve fair representation and representation does matter.”

But let’s not be so quick to bestow laurels on Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the 5–4 Allen v. Milligan decision. After all, he and Justice Brett Kavanaugh simply joined the three liberals in upholding the bipartisan 1965 Voting Rights Act.

We don’t know if this decision is a public-relations maneuver or a true indication of court rethinking.

Kavanaugh, in his concurring opinion, said the Alabama map violated the law but suggested there be a time limit put on considerations of race in redistricting. That ignores the fact that there is no time limit on racism or election meddling.

Last year he joined other conservative justices in allowing maps declared unconstitutional by lower courts to be used in the 2022 elections. It was too close to the elections, he said. Those maps helped Republicans narrowly win House control, according to some political analysts.

Roberts has been fighting against the voting law since he was a lawyer in President Reagan’s Justice Department.

He wrote the 2013 decision, Shelby v. Holder, which gutted the section that required nine states with a history of discrimination, including Alabama, to get Justice Department pre-approval of election changes. And he supported a 2021 decision, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, which essentially said it was OK if voting rules disproportionately impacted minority voters.

In the 2013 decision, Roberts argued that high Black voter turnout proved that…

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Vanessa Gallman

Experienced journalist, educator and retired opinion-page editor with occasional musings