Newswire: Supreme Court’s Alabama ruling sparks alarm over voting rights

Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7) comments on Supreme Court decision
By Lisa Mascaro and Farnoush Amiri, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s decision to halt efforts to create a second mostly Black congressional district in Alabama for the 2022 election sparked fresh warnings Tuesday that the court is becoming too politicized, eroding the Voting Rights Act and reviving the need for Congress to intervene.
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority put on hold a lower court ruling that Alabama must draw new congressional districts to increase Black voting power. Civil rights groups had argued that the state, with its “sordid record” of racial discrimination, drew new maps by “packing” Black voters into one single district and “cracking” Black voters from other districts in ways that dilute their electoral power. Black voters are 26% of Alabama’s electorate.

In its 5-4 decision late Monday, the Supreme Court said it would review the case in full, a future legal showdown in the months to come that voting advocates fear could further gut the protections in the landmark Civil Rights-era law.
It’s “the latest example of the Supreme Court hacking away at the protections of the voting rights act of 1965,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Congress must act. We must restore the Voting Rights Act.”
The outcome all but ensures Alabama will continue to send mostly white Republicans to Washington after this fall’s midterm elections and applies new pressure on Congress to shore up voter protections after a broader elections bill collapsed last month. And the decision shows the growing power of the high court’s conservative majority as President Joe Biden is under his own pressures to name a liberal nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.
Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Black representative from Alabama, said the court’s decision underscores the need for Congress to pass her bill, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to update and ensure the law’s historic protections.
“Black Alabamians deserve nothing less,” Sewell said in a statement.
The case out of Alabama is one of the most important legal tests of the new congressional maps stemming from the 2020 census count. It comes in the aftermath of court decisions that have widely been viewed as chiseling away at race-based protections of the Voting Rights Act.
Alabama and other states with a known history of voting rights violations were no longer under federal oversight, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department for changes to their election practices after the court, in its 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, struck down the bill’s formula as outdated.
As states nationwide adjust their congressional districts to fit population and demographic data, Alabama’s Republican-led Legislature drew up new maps last fall that were immediately challenged by civil rights groups on behalf of Black voters in the state.
Late last month, a three-judge lower court, which includes two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, had ruled that the state had probably violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the political power of Black voters. This finding was rooted, in part, in the fact that the state did not create a second district in which Black voters made up a majority, or close to it.
Given that more than one person in four in Alabama is Black, the plaintiffs had argued the single Black district is far less than one person, one vote.
“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the three-judge panel wrote in the 225-page ruling.
The lower court gave the Alabama legislature until Friday to come up with a remedial plan.

Late Monday, the Supreme Court, after an appeal from Alabama, issued a stay. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, part of the conservative majority, said the lower court’s order for a new map came too close to the 2022 election.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined his three more liberal colleagues in dissent.
“It’s just a really disturbing ruling,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Judiciary Committee, who called the Supreme Court’s decision “a setback to racial equity, to ideals of one person, one vote.”
Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the decision “hits at the guts of voting rights.” She told The Associated Press: “We’re afraid of what will happen from Alabama to Texas to Florida and even to the great state of Ohio.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the court decision exposes the need for Congress to legislate to protect voting rights. The erosion of those rights is “exactly what the Voting Rights Act is in place to prevent.”
Critics went beyond assailing the decision at hand to assert that the court has become political.
“I know the court likes to say it’s not partisan, that it’s apolitical, but this seems to be a very political decision,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tweeted that the court majority has “zero legitimacy.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., tweeted that the court’s action was “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Alabama Republicans welcomed the court’s decision. “It is great news,” said Rep. Mo Brooks who is running for the GOP nomination for Senate. He called the lower court ruling an effort to “usurp” the decisions made by the state’s legislature.
The justices will at some later date decide whether the map produced by the state violates the voting rights law, a case that could call into question “decades of this Court’s precedent” about Section 2 of the act, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent. Section 2 prohibits racial and other discrimination in voting procedures.
Voting advocates see the arguments ahead as a showdown over voting rights they say are being slowly but methodically altered by the Roberts court.
The Supreme Court in the Shelby decision did away with the preclearance formula under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And last summer, the conservative majority in Bronvich vs. the Democratic National Committee upheld voting limits in an Arizona case concerning early ballots that a lower court had found discriminatory under Section 2.
With the Alabama case, the court is wading further into Section 2 limits over redistricting maps.
Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Chris England, who is a member of the Alabama Legislature from Tuscaloosa, said he fears the Supreme Court’s action will reverberate and embolden other GOP-controlled states.
“If this was the epicenter of the earthquake, the tremors are going to be felt in state legislatures, city councils and county commissions — all of which are currently going through some form of redistricting right now,” said England.

Newswire: Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

Supreme Court

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Supreme Court In a significant victory for the Biden-Harris administration and Americans who depend on affordable health care, the Supreme Court rejected the latest challenge to President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. The challenge stemmed from whether the individual mandate could be cut from the rest of the law or whether the justices should strike down the entire law. Former President Trump made it his mission to get rid of the law, which has provided millions of Americans with access to affordable health care, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. The court ruled 7-2, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing for the majority, striking down a lower court ruling and determining that the plaintiffs — Texas and 17 other GOP-led states — did not show that they have the standing to bring the initial suits. “We conclude that the plaintiffs in this suit failed to show a concrete, particularized injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct in enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional,” wrote Justice Breyer. “They have failed to show that they have the standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision. Therefore, we reverse the Fifth Circuit’s judgment in respect to standing, vacate the judgment, and remand the case with instructions to dismiss,” the Justice continued. “We do not reach these questions of the Act’s validity … for Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise them. Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Reportedly, 31 million Americans have health coverage connected to the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare. Also, a guarantee of access to continuous insurance coverage is protected for more than 54 million people with preexisting conditions because of the health care law’s provisions that prevent insurance companies from canceling or refusing to establish policies because of pre-existing conditions.

Newswire : Supreme Court rules in favor of Ohio ‘voter purge’

By Lydia Wheeler, The Hill

A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld a controversial voter purge policy in Ohio, one of several voting disputes the court is expected to settle in the coming weeks.
In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld Ohio’s “use it or lose it” policy, known as the supplemental process.
Under the state policy, voters who have not voted in two years are flagged and sent a confirmation notice. Voters who fail to respond to the notice and don’t vote within the next two years are removed from the rolls.
The process is one of two methods state officials use to identify voters who are no longer eligible to vote due to a change of residence.
Critics claimed the policy violates a federal law that bars states from removing people from the voter rolls for failing to vote. But a majority of the high court rejected that argument.
The court’s five conservative justices, led by Justice Samuel Alito, voted in the majority, with the court’s four liberals, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting.
In delivering the majority opinion, Alito said the state’s process does not violate the National Voter Registration Act’s failure-to-vote Clause or any of the law’s other provisions.
“The notice in question here warns recipients that unless they take the simple and easy step of mailing back the preaddressed, postage prepaidcard — or take the equally easy step of updating their information online—their names may be removed from the voting rolls if they do not vote during the next four years,” Alito wrote.
“It was Congress’s judgment that a reasonable person with an interest in voting is not likely to ignore notice of this sort.”
Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of Ohio resident Larry Harmon and two other groups, argued the policy specifically targets minority and low-income people, two groups that traditionally have lower voter turnout.
In a fiery dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed. She said Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act specifically to fight state efforts to disenfranchise these communities.
“The Court errs in ignoring this history and distorting the statutory text to arrive at a conclusion that not only is contrary to the plain language of the NVRA but also contradicts the essential purposes of the statute, ultimately sanctioning the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against,” she said.
Justice Stephen Breyer in a separate dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sotomayor, argued that a voter’s failure to respond to a notice “is an irrelevant factor in terms of what it shows about whether that registrant changed his or her residence.”
“To add an irrelevant factor to a failure to vote, say, a factor like having gone on vacation or having eaten too large a meal, cannot change Ohio’s sole use of ‘failure to vote’ into something it is not,” he said.
Six other states — Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — have similar practices that target voters for removal from the rolls for not voting, but Ohio’s is the most stringent.
In a statement, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), said the state’s process can now serve as a model for other jurisdictions. “Today’s decision is a victory for election integrity, and a defeat for those who use the federal court system to make election law across the country,” he said.
“This decision is validation of Ohio’s efforts to clean up the voter rolls and now with the blessing [of the] nation’s highest court, it can serve as a model for other states to use.”
But voting rights advocates warned they will fight other states that try to enact similar voter policies they see as discriminatory.
“If states take today’s decision as a sign that they can be even more reckless and kick eligible voters off the rolls, we will fight back in the courts, the legislatures, and with our community partners across the country,” Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, said in a statement.
Naifeh argued the case on behalf of Harmon, who was removed from the rolls under the state’s process, as well as the Philip Randolph Institute and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.
The court has other voting issues on its docket. The justices are still grappling with two partisan gerrymandering cases challenging voter maps in Wisconsin and Maryland.