It was supposed to be the legislative centerpiece of the Biden Administration. Congress was going to shore up protections for voting rights. Two pieces of legislation were supposed to be passed in tandem: HR1, the For The People Act, and HR4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Together, they would counter the unprecedented wave of voter suppression laws being passed by state legislatures and protect Americans from further degradation of the Voting Rights Act. Instead, and despite Democratic majorities in both bodies of Congress, the proposed legislation faltered in the Senate, sacrificed at the altar of the filibuster.
Rather than the planned reinvigoration of the Voting Rights Act and the enhancement of protections for voters on other fronts, we are now looking at the possibility that the remainder of the Act will be dismantled by the Supreme Court. That sounds extreme. But it’s accurate. And it’s important for us to face that prospect.
This term the Supreme Court will decide Merrill v. Milligan, an Alabama case that was argued during the first week in October. The issue before the justices is whether Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, requires the Court to reject Alabama’s newly-drawn voting maps. Based on data from the most recent census, they squish Alabama’s Black population centers into a gash of a district that stretches from Birmingham, down to Montgomery, and west into the so-called “Black Belt,” including Selma. The remainder of Alabama’s Black voters are dispersed throughout the state’s remaining six districts in numbers too small to give them a realistic chance of electing candidates of their choice. Experts for the plaintiffs in the case drew maps that created two majority-minority districts in the state. A three-judge panel, including two Trump-appointed judges, ruled in their favor, rejecting the state’s maps because they violated Section 2.