Black leaders applaud Supreme Court ruling in voting rights case, but ‘with a grain of salt’

“While today's decision is a victory…the ruling does not strengthen legal protections for Black voters — it merely preserves the status quo,” said Steven Horsford, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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The Supreme Court shocked leaders in the Black community after rendering a decision to defend the Voting Rights Act in a gerrymandering case in Alabama. 

On Thursday, the court released a surprise opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, which ordered Alabama to redraw its congressional maps to accommodate its Black voters.

FILE – The Supreme Court is seen on April 21, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

“I got to be honest. I’m quite surprised…we’ve been prepping for the worse given obvious reasons and trends of this court,” Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told theGrio.

During his weekly House minority leader press conference, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told reporters that this ruling “appears to be an affirmation that the Voting Rights Act is the law of the land.”

“It is illegal to engage in race-based gerrymandering. It’s clear that the Alabama legislature engaged in race-based gerrymandering, and they’re not the only ones throughout the country who have done that,” said Jeffries. 

He continued, “We can at least draw some comfort from the fact that the 1965 Voting Rights Act remains alive.” 

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released a statement that read, “Today’s decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections.”

“[The ruling] preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on their race,” he added. 

Last year, the court granted certiorari to hear oral arguments in Allen v. Milligan, which brought a challenge to Alabama’s redistricting maps over the claim that it was racially discriminatory.

Oct 7, 2022; Washington, DC, USA; Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court. Seated from left: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Associate Justice Elena Kagan Standing behind from left: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

If the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in Allen v. Milligan, Albright said it would have had devastating consequences on members of the Black community.

“We would not have the representation that we deserve, which means we’d only have half a voice in Congress,” he explained. 

As a result, “All of our issues would not get the proper level of support. That’s everything from housing to economic justice to voting rights to environmental justice,” said Albright.

In the 5-4 majority decision, Justices Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh sided with the court’s three liberals, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Albright told theGrio he was even more surprised that Roberts rejected Alabama’s redistricting map because, in the past, he has scrutinized voting rights. 

“It’s a conflict with everything he has ever said about voting rights throughout the course of his career,” he said.

Albright continued: “[Roberts] has argued that we’re not guaranteed representation and quotas and all that stuff. On one hand, it’s incredibly surprising that he would rule this way, but on the other hand, perhaps some of his motivations are to protect the integrity of the court.”

In a statement obtained by theGrio, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., said, “I know that John Lewis and the Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement are smiling as they look down on us.” 

“This is a historic victory, not only for Black voters in Alabama but for Democracy itself,” said Sewell.

voting rights theGrio
A demonstrator holds a sign at rally with Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., outside the U.S. Capitol to urge the Senate to pass voting rights legislation on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“With this decision, the Supreme Court is saying loudly and clearly that the voices of minority voters matter and that fair representation must be upheld,” she added.

However, Albright told theGrio to take this ruling “with a grain of salt.”

“This is still the court that has been reminiscent in a lot of ways of the [Dick] Cheney court, of the Dred Scott days [that], of course, invalidated all of the civil rights laws after reconstruction,” he said. “We still have to be very vigilant.”

In a statement obtained by theGrio, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said that the CBC would continue to push for legislation that will “address nationwide voter suppression tactics” that target Black Americans.

“While today’s decision is a victory…the ruling does not strengthen legal protections for Black voters — it merely preserves the status quo,” the statement read.

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