The Supreme Court seemed split and perplexed by a demand that Alabama redo its legislative redistricting plan because of its over-the-top emphasis on the race of the residents, according to the Washington Post.
Black officeholders and Democrats argued that the Republicans who run the state compiled minorities into districts that “allowed the election of African-American officials but reduced their influence elsewhere,” said the Post.
The Supreme Court’s history on gerrymandering cases is anything but clear.
“The Court has a complex history with gerrymandering cases. Sometimes they allow it, other times they don’t,” said Allan McBride, a political science professor and director of graduate studies.
During oral arguments, justices pointed out the irony of the case because minorities used to go to court the demand legislative redistricting using race so minorities could be represented in government. Justice Antonin Scalia mentioned that the Alabama Democratic Caucus, the plaintiff, was using the same arguments “the other side used to be making” when people were arguing for there to be districts that could be won by minorities.
Chief Justice Robert Roberts mentioned states encountered conflicting demands from Congress, who wants minorities represented through the Voting Rights Act and from constitutional protections against treating people differently because of race, reported Washington Post. Roberts said he sympathized with states trying to find the “sweet spot” between considering race too much or not considering the race factor enough.
Alabama claims that its plans were guided by a goal of making districts as similar to each other as possible, with respect to size, to comply with “one person, one vote.” They also claim that they are complying with the Voting Rights Act, which says states must have districts comprised of a majority of minorities when it is possible to allow minorities representatives.
It is unclear as to the final outcome of the case.
“At this point, it is just speculation,” McBride said. “The court may allow Alabama to have partisan districts, but they may also see through this (as racial discrimination).”
“Political reapportionment, or gerrymandering, has transcended American elections since Virginian Anti-Federalists tried to keep James Madison out of the US House of Representatives,” said Nathan Barron, a freshman political science major. “The ideal situation would include a reapportionment committee with 50-50 representation from the majority and minority parties, so as to promote bi-partisan compromise,” Barron rejects the argument that the gerrymandering is intentional discrimination. “Reapportionment across political lines is not necessarily discrimination, but it sure is sound politics—for both the majority and minority parties,” he said.