Supreme Court to hear arguments on whether Voting Rights Act requires states to consider race in gerrymandering

The high court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case about whether the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires states to consider race as they divvy communities up into congressional districts.

The case before the justices centers on Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, which was created in 2012. The district is more than 60 percent black.

Arguing for the state, lawyers will say that the 7th District was created in response to a court order that required the state to create a majority-black district. They argue that race was not the predominant factor in drawing the district’s boundaries.

Critics say the 7th District is an example of racial gerrymandering, and they argue that the state should have considered other options that would have made the district more compact.

A decision in the case is expected by early summer.

The justices on Monday will consider whether to take up a challenge to Alabama’s 2011 state legislative redistricting plan. The plan, which was enacted after the 2010 census, reduced the number of majority-black districts from 35 to 28 even though the state’s African-American population had grown.

A three-judge federal court ruled last year that the redistricting plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, saying the state had packed black voters into too few districts to diminish their overall influence.

But in March, the Supreme Court put that ruling on hold, pending review by the justices. The court’s action suggested that a majority of the justices were ready to hear the case.

If the court takes up the case, it could have a major impact on how redistricting plans are drawn up around the country. A ruling in favor of Alabama could make it harder for plaintiffs to prove racial gerrymandering claims, while a ruling against Alabama could make it easier.

The court has already scheduled two other cases involving claims of racial gerrymandering for next term. One, from Virginia, challenges a state legislative redistricting plan that created 12 majority-black districts. The other, from North Carolina, challenges two congressional districts that were created to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

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