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Merrill v. Milligan

The Supreme Court is set to hear a case that would maintain Alabama’s discriminatory congressional map and undermine Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs and respondents, a group of Black voters and civil rights organizations, claim that the map dilutes Black Alabamans’ voting power. The Brennan Center and partners at Debevoise & Plimpton have filed an amicus brief supporting the lower court’s decision finding the map violates the Voting Rights Act.

Published: July 18, 2022

In November 2021, groups of individual Black voters and Black-led community and civil rights organizations filed two lawsuits alleging that Alabama’s new congressional map was designed to dilute Black Alabamans’ votes: Caster v. Merrill and Milligan v. MerrillThe lawsuits argued that the map inten­tion­ally perpetu­ates a long history of discrim­in­a­tion against Black voters by pack­ing a large segment of Black voters into a single heav­ily Black congres­sional district and crack­ing the remain­ing voters among multiple districts dominated by white voters, thereby dilut­ing Black polit­ical power. Under the map, Black voters have the oppor­tun­ity to elect a candid­ate of choice in only one of seven districts (14 percent of districts) despite making up around 27 percent of the state’s voting age popu­la­tion.

On Janu­ary 24, 2022, the district court hearing the cases prelim­in­ar­ily blocked Alabama’s new congres­sional map, find­ing that the map was substan­tially likely to viol­ate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and ordered the Alabama legislature to create a second Black oppor­tun­ity district in time for the 2022 midterms. 

However, Alabama appealed the decision, and, on February 7, 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and stayed the lower court’s judg­ments pending appeal.

On July 18, 2022, the Brennan Center in partnership with pro bono counsel Debevoise & Plimpton filed an amicus brief in support of the appellees and respondents urging the court to uphold the lower court’s decision finding that Alabama’s map did indeed violate Section 2.

The brief argues that far from imposing a mandate to draw majority-minority districts whenever a minority group is large enough, Section 2 is a well-calibrated test that targets serious cases of actual discrimination in line-drawing.

The brief also argues that the Gingles framework developed by courts gives states multiple ways to create electoral districts that comply with Section 2 other than creating majority-minority districts. Furthermore, it discusses how the Gingles framework contains multiple built-in safeguards that prevent improper overuse of race in redistricting.

Oral argument in the consolidated case is scheduled for October 4, 2022.