Several court battles in states throughout the South accused of racial gerrymandering will determine the voting power of Black Americans in next year’s elections and future control of Congress.
The outcomes of these redistricting cases, one of which is currently being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court, will test the durability of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and constitutional rights for Black Americans.
They will be crucial determinants as to whether Democrats or Republicans will hold the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2025.
There are about 12 congressional maps currently in litigation that could impact the 2024 elections, which will see contests in all 435 congressional districts across the 50 states.
Of those dozen cases, half are in states where state legislatures controlled by Republicans are accused of redrawing maps to dilute the concentration of Black Americans in certain districts, also known as racial gerrymandering.
Racial gerrymandering is an illegal practice of drawing electoral district lines to deliberately suppress the voting power of Black and other racial minority groups. These maps, which stay in place for 10 years until the next time the U.S. Census is conducted, will hold significant weight in the balance of political power in Washington.
For your tracking, here’s what you should know:
In Alexander v. South Carolina NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund accuses Republican legislators of drawing a congressional map that limits the voting strength of Black residents in the state’s 1st Congressional District.
The plaintiff argues that South Carolina Republicans violated the 14th and 15th Amendments, which guarantee equal protection under the law and prohibit race-based voting discrimination.
Despite a lower court decision in January that blocked the congressional map in agreement that it violates the civil rights of Black voters, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court appeared poised to reinstate the map during oral arguments this month.
Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that Black voters challenging the map presented “circumstantial evidence” and appeared to suggest that the redistricting gave Republicans a political advantage, which is legal, but failed to prove it was racial gerrymandering.
A decision in the case has not been determined. However, the court has until the end of its term next summer to issue a ruling.
There is only one Democratic and Black member of South Carolina’s congressional delegation, longtime Rep. Jim Clyburn. The 1st Congressional District, considered competitive for the GOP and Democrats, is currently represented by Rep. Nancy Mace.
In Allen v. Milligan, civil rights activist Evan Milligan is challenging Alabama’s congressional map. Milligan, represented by the NAACP LDF and American Civil Liberties Union, argues that Alabama’s number of majority-Black districts does not accurately reflect the Black population in the state.
According to 2020 census data, Black voters make up 27% of the state’s population but control only one of the state’s seven congressional districts (14%). In June, the Supreme Court upheld a previous and unanimous federal district court’s ruling that the Alabama map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Black voters.
State legislators were ordered to redraw Alabama’s congressional map with a second majority-Black district. After Republicans submitted a map that fell short of that threshold, a three-judge panel rejected it. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision weeks later.
Now, Alabama will undergo a court-ordered redistricting process to ensure that Black voters get the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice – creating what is known as opportunity districts.
Currently, the 7th Congressional District is the only majority-Black district in Alabama. It is represented by Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat.
Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen, a Black Republican, vowed that the state would continue to appeal the federal district court’s ruling.
Despite 2020 census data showing an explosion of population growth in Texas – largely driven by an increase of Black and brown voters – the second-largest state is accused of drawing a congressional map that solidifies the power of white voters.
A consolidation of lawsuits brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and several organizations, including the Texas NAACP, claim that the Republican-controlled state legislature discriminated against Black and Latino voters. Similar to the Alabama case, the plaintiffs accuse lawmakers of violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they are hopeful for the outcome of the Texas case after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a similar litigation in Alabama.
The Texas case remains in the discovery stage as both sides dispute the process. A trial date will be scheduled after the disputes are resolved.
Two lawsuits in Florida challenge the state’s congressional map, accusing state Republicans and Gov. Ron DeSantis of violating the constitutional rights of Black voters and the state constitution.
In Common Cause Florida v. Byrd, a coalition of groups, including Common Cause and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, joined individual voters in accusing DeSantis and Republicans of intentional racial discrimination in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments.
The plaintiffs argue that the Florida map adopted by the state legislature denied Black voters their right to elect candidates of their choice. A trial was held in the case last month.
The other case filed in state court, Black Voters Matter v. Byrd, argues that the existing congressional map violates multiple provisions of the Florida Constitution by diminishing the ability of Black voters to elect their candidates of choice.
The lawsuit cites northern Florida and the 5th Congressional District, where former U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat who served three terms, was voted out of office in 2022 and replaced by a white Republican.
The plaintiffs in Black Voters Matter v. Byrd take issue with Republicans dividing the 5th District into four districts with smaller populations of Black voters. In September, a Florida judge struck down the congressional map and deemed it unconstitutional. The Sunshine State is now barred from using the map in the 2024 elections.
State legislators will now have to draw a new map that does not diminish the power of Black voters. However, the lower-court ruling will likely be appealed and end up before the Florida Supreme Court, which is controlled by justices appointed by DeSantis.
Three lawsuits in Georgia seek to strike down the Peach State’s congressional map, claiming that it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
At question in these cases is whether the map drawn by the Georgia state legislature purposely diluted the power of Black voters by “packing” them into multiple majority-white districts. Two of the three lawsuits argue that the map should include an additional majority-Black district in the western Atlanta metropolitan area.
One lawsuit, Common Cause v. Raffensperger, challenges the 6th, 13th and 14th Congressional Districts for being unconstitutionally gerrymandered based on race. The case goes to trial in November. Another case, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP v. Georgia, was consolidated with Common Cause v. Raffensperger.
Another case, Pendergrass v. Raffensperger, brought by groups including Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., went to trial in September and is awaiting a decision.
Similar to cases in Alabama and Georgia, two consolidated lawsuits filed in Louisiana accuse Republicans of violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and argue a second majority-Black district should be drawn.
In June 2022, a district court judge ordered Louisiana’s congressional map to be redrawn with a second majority-Black district. Black voters in Louisiana represent 33% of the state’s population.
Rep. Troy Davis, who is Black, is the sole Democrat in Louisiana’s congressional delegation.
Despite preliminary injunctions last year against Louisiana’s map and the ordering of a second majority-Black district, a lower court decision has delayed the process and was upheld by the Supreme Court.
It is unclear whether a redrawn map will be completed in time for the 2024 elections; however, in her concurrent opinion after the Supreme Court declined to intervene in lifting the lower court order that delayed the adoption of a new map, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed confidence that it would be resolved by Nov. 5, 2024.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, originally vetoed the map because it failed to include a second Black-majority district. However, the super-majority Republican-controlled legislature overrode the veto, leading to the current court battle before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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