(WASHINGTON) — Democrats are celebrating Thursday’s Supreme Court decision bolstering the Voting Rights Act — and the power of minority voters — which they say also bolsters the party’s chances to take back the House from Republicans next year.
The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that Alabama’s congressional map violates Section 2 of the VRA by packing many of the state’s Black voters into one congressional district, thereby diluting their power to elect lawmakers relative to their share of the overall population.
The high court affirmed a lower court finding that the current map, which only has one majority-Black district, disenfranchised African Americans, who make up more than a quarter of the population in the state.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed by Republicans, joined the court’s three liberal-leaning justices in the majority — a surprise to most observers, in part because Roberts authored a 2013 opinion invalidating the VRA’s Section 4.
As a result of Thursday’s ruling, Alabama will likely have to draw another majority-Black district, which Democrats see as an opportunity to win another House seat. They are similarly optimistic of victories in cases regarding congressional maps in Georgia and Louisiana that are currently making their way through the courts.
“Even though it’s really only going to amount to one seat in Alabama, it’s a major boon for Democrats going into 2024 and the House elections,” said one House Democratic strategist, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the ruling.
“It feels great on a democracy level that people are not going to be silenced,” this strategist said, adding, “On the other on hand, electorally, you can’t help but be happy about it. It’s always a good thing when you’re going to know you’re going to pick up more seats at the end of the day.”
Democrats are eager to retake the House after the GOP won a narrow five-seat majority in the 2022 midterms. Eighteen Republicans hold districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020, and Democrats are already targeting several seats in California and New York.
Party strategists and outside experts now say the ruling in Alabama and the cases in Louisiana — where Black people make up a third of the population — and in Georgia, which has a similar share of Black residents, could net the party at least three more seats, potentially offsetting a new map Republicans are set to draw in North Carolina that is anticipated to give the GOP a hefty advantage there.
A federal judge in Georgia on Thursday asked asked both parties in the case over that state’s map to offer supplemental materials after the Supreme Court ruling.
“The landmark decision in Allen v. Milligan could reverberate across the Deep South, leading to the creation of new Black-majority, strongly Democratic seats in multiple states,” election analyst Dave Wasserman wrote in The Cook Political Report.
Another case regarding South Carolina’s map could also be a boon to Democrats. The case is based on the 14th and 15th Amendments, rather than the VRA, and will not be heard until the Supreme Court’s next term, but Democrats hope the court will rule similarly in that case as it did in the Alabama decision.
Democrats told ABC News they were shocked by the ruling, saying they were not expecting such a result from a court dominated by six conservative-leaning jurists.
“I think Democrats knew we’d presented a good case, but when the deck is kind of stacked against you, it can’t help but be a little shocking,” said the House Democratic strategist.
Antjuan Seawright, another Democratic strategist, was blunt: “I wouldn’t have bet anything I have on this decision going this way, to be honest with you.”
But, in light of the court’s position, operatives also urged Democrats not to rest on their laurels and instead find other states where they can file lawsuits over allegations of racial gerrymandering.
One state mentioned was Texas, where Democrats said similar rulings could produce at least five new Democratic-leaning districts. A tracker maintained by the Brennan Center for Justice indicates nine federal cases in Texas could be impacted by the Thursday decision.
FiveThirtyEight forecast what the map changes in each state could look like.
“This also shines a light on how important challenging the system continues to be. We can’t just roll over and give up. Had this fight not gone on to this point, I’m not sure we would have gotten this result,” said Seawright.
Roberts, in his majority opinion for the Supreme Court, acknowledged concerns raised by Alabama Republicans that consideration of race in the drawing of election maps may itself “elevate race in the allocation of political power” but concluded “a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here.”
Conservatives said they were disappointed by the ruling — with Alabama GOP Chair John Wahl saying the state would comply with the decision “regardless of our disagreement.”
Thursday’s ruling bucks a pattern in recent years of Democrats struggling to make changes to voting rights and gerrymandering.
Democrats were unable to pass sprawling legislation combating gerrymandering and expanding access to the ballot when they controlled Congress from 2021 until earlier this year, because they lacked enough votes to either overcome Senate filibusters or to change the rules in the chamber. And activists have grumbled that the party did not put enough muscle to get the bill over the finish line. That compounded past setbacks such as the 2013 Supreme Court decision that removed the VRA requirement for states with histories of voter restrictions to get federal approval before changing their voting laws.
Now, though, Democrats are voicing hope that Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling will at least serve as an obstacle to what they view as the most extreme racial gerrymanders that state legislatures can pursue moving forward.
“Representation matters,” Seawright said, “and what this does is just solidify the position of that.”
ABC News’ Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.
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