After several attacks on the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court reaffirmed last week the Act will continue to hinder acts of racial discrimination during the composition of election districts, leaving several scholars surprised.
“The right to vote is paramount to the success of our Democracy,” said city Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “This victory upholds key provisions of the Voting Rights Act designed to prevent racial discrimination in drawing Congressional Districts. We must continue to resist efforts to undermine our Democracy and fight to protect the right to vote for everyone.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is described as the “crown jewel” of the civil rights enactments, according to assistant law professor Emily Rong Zhang. The landmark legislation works to extensively protect the voting rights of minority communities, though the Act has been challenged in recent years.
In 2013, the Supreme Court challenged section four of the Voting Rights Act, dealing with the issue of who has the right to vote, Zhang said. In this ruling, there was fear that section two of the Act may face the same scrutiny, a section which regulates the drawing of voting districts. This section also directly correlates to minority representation, Zhang said, as it affects the ability of minority groups to elect desired candidates into government.
“The act is a brute force method of dealing with racial discrimination,” Zhang said. “It says there are going to be problems in some places where minorities can’t elect their candidate of choice because they’re in the numerical minority.”
The most recent Supreme Court decision tackles issues including racially polarized voting, according to Zhang, where minority communities continue to lose their desired electoral candidate to the numerical majority.
To combat this issue, the decision supports the redrawing of election districts to ensure minority voters have a fair chance in electing a certain candidate, according to Zhang. Now minority groups must make up 50% or more of an election district, depending on the demographics of that district. Districts that reflect minority voting cohesion have been responsible for creating much of the racial diversity among elected officials in Congress, House and state legislatures, Zhang added.
Since the lawsuit that inspired this decision specifically challenged the district maps of Alabama, the implications on other states are unclear, given that only Alabama is being called to redraw election district maps. Though a great sense of relief fell over many lawmakers after this decision, some are unsure what this ruling means for states outside of Alabama, Zhang said.
“While I greatly appreciate this ruling, it doesn’t erase the damage already done by this court in eviscerating protections for voters, and in particular voters of color who have been systematically disenfranchised in the United States, since the founding of our nation,” Hahn said in the email.