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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A series of court cases and laws have steadily curtailed the right to vote in the United States in recent years, and today the Supreme Court continued that trend. In a 5-4 vote, the justices decided to further erode the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For now, they have blocked the formation of a majority black second congressional district in Alabama before the 2022 election.
Michael Li is Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where his work focuses on redistricting, voting rights and elections. Thanks for join us.
MICHAEL LI: Yeah, glad to be here.
SHAPIRO: To start with a bit of background, Alabama has seven congressional districts. One is majority black, and the state’s population is more than a quarter black. So a three-judge federal court that included two Trump appointees ruled that the state should create a majority black second district. Now, what does this 5-4 Supreme Court decision do today?
LI: Well, what the Supreme Court did today was they put the redesign of the map on hold. Alabama had a deadline of today to redraw the map, and the court said — the lower court said if it didn’t, a special master would draw the map instead.
But today the Supreme Court suspended that decision, saying it was too close to the 2022 election and also agreed to take the case, which could potentially overhaul what the Voting Rights Act means and could be further – could signal a new roll behind critical parts of the Voting Rights Act that would apply not just in Alabama but in Texas and a whole host of states.
SHAPIRO: So this very conservative Supreme Court has effectively opened the door to a broad review of the Voting Rights Act. In the short term, what are the implications of this decision in Alabama?
LI: Well, in Alabama, that means the state will go ahead and use the map that the legislature has drawn for the 2022 election. And then the Supreme Court will probably hear this case next quarter and decide on ‘by June 2023 in a very busy mandate where race will be present in many ways, including affirmative action. So, but for now, Alabama will continue to use its existing maps.
SHAPIRO: It was a short, curt decision. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices. First, tell us what the majority Conservatives said. What was their reasoning?
LI: Well, they gave a – well, they didn’t all write. But, you know, Judge Kavanaugh said he was not expressing an opinion on the case as a whole. But he just thought it was too close to the election, noting that Alabama – Alabama voting begins in just seven weeks and didn’t think there was enough time to redraw the map.
SHAPIRO: So it’s about stability and predictability just before an election, according to him.
LI: It’s true. But, you know, we don’t know what the other judges wanted to do. And they agreed to take on this case, which is really, as Judge Kagan said, really, you know, potentially undoing decades of entrenched suffrage law, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not…
LI: …A difficult case. It’s not one where you would think they would necessarily want to step in. And yet they did. And they’ve taken this case, which I think is a strong signal that maybe they want to revisit what the Voting Rights Act means in the context of redistricting and maybe even if it applies to redistricting.
SHAPIRO: And in our last minute, what was the dissent’s reasoning? What did they say?
LI: Well, they really took the court to task by using his phantom case to really do a lot of damage, noting – Judge Kagan noted that it really came at the expense of black Alabamans and – you know, who – and it really did damage to a law that, until recently, was really considered to be, like, a foundation of American democracy.
SHAPIRO: This is Michael Li, senior counsel for the democracy program at the Brennan Center. Thanks for talking to us tonight.
LI: Yeah, glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.