U.S. Supreme Court overturns Alabama’s congressional maps in Allen v. Milligan decision

On June 8, 2023, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan adopted in November 2021 and used in the state’s 2022 elections violated the Voting Rights Act and must be redrawn to include a second majority-Black district.

In November 2021, a group of Alabama voters and organizations sued Secretary of State John Merrill (R) and the House and Senate redistricting chairmen, Rep. Chris Pringle (R) and Sen. Jim McClendon (R). Plaintiffs alleged the congressional map unfairly distributed Black voters. The plaintiffs asked the lower court to invalidate the enacted congressional map and order a new map with instructions to include a second majority-Black district.

In January 2022, the Northern District of Alabama granted an injunction preventing the state from using this plan for the 2022 U.S. House elections. In February 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the district court and allowed the state to use the maps to conduct its elections. That year, Alabama voters elected six Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House.

Two lower court cases were consolidated into this one: Milligan v. Merrill and Caster v. Merrill. The case changed names to Allen v. Milligan once Wes Allen (R) became Alabama Secretary of State in January 2023.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Allen v. Milligan and was joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett formed the minority.

In his majority opinion, Roberts wrote, “The concern that §2 may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power within the States is, of course, not new. See, e.g., Shaw, 509 U. S., at 657 (“Racial gerrymandering, even for remedial purposes, may balkanize us into competing racial factions; it threatens to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race no longer matters.”). Our opinion today does not diminish or disregard these concerns. It simply holds that a faithful application of our precedents and a fair reading of the record before us do not bear them out here.”

In his dissent, Thomas wrote, “As construed by the District Court, §2 does not remedy or deter unconstitutional discrimination in districting in any way, shape, or form. On the contrary, it requires it, hijacking the districting process to pursue a goal that has no legitimate claim under our constitutional system: the proportional allocation of political power on the basis of race. Such a statute “cannot be considered remedial, preventive legislation,” and the race-based redistricting it would command cannot be upheld under the Constitution.”

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