Voting Rights and Democracy

Merrill v. Milligan and Merrill v. Caster

In Merrill v. Milligan and Merrill v. Caster, the Supreme Court is considering whether Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan for its congressional districts violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Case Summary

In 2022, the Alabama legislature drew congressional district lines in a manner that dilutes the voting strength of the Black community, packing much of the Black community in Alabama’s Black Belt into Congressional District 7 and cracking the rest into Districts 1, 2, and 3 where members of the Black community will be consistently unable to elect representatives of their choice because of persistent racial bloc voting. A group of registered voters and civil rights organizations immediately challenged the map in federal court, claiming that Alabama’s congressional map violated Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits state electoral practices that results in a denial of equal political opportunity for voters of color.

A three-judge panel in the Northern District Court of Alabama agreed, concluding that the map likely violated Section 2 of the VRA. The court granted a preliminary injunction ordering the state to draw a new map. In February 2022, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, stayed the district court’s injunction pending its decision on the merits. In its appeal, Alabama claims that the results test contained in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as construed by the court below, exceeds the scope of Congress’s power to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment.

On July 18, 2022, CAC filed an amicus brief in support of those challenging Alabama’s redistricting plan. Our brief makes three main points to rebut Alabama’s constitutional attack on the Voting Rights Act.

First, our brief explains that, as its text and history show, the Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress a broad enforcement power to protect the right to vote against all forms of racial discrimination. Against the backdrop of a political system divided by race, the Framers explicitly granted Congress broad legislative powers through the enforcement clause, providing that “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” By adding this language to the Amendment, the Framers gave Congress sweeping authority to stamp out every conceivable attempt by states to deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race.

Second, our brief explains that Congress used its enforcement power under the Fifteenth Amendment to prohibit dilutive practices that nullify the effectiveness of Black votes. Throughout the Reconstruction South, state governments packed and cracked Black voters into gerrymandered districts in order to undercut the Fifteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal political opportunity. With these dilutive practices in mind, Congress wrote the results test to make unlawful any voting practice that results in the denial of equal political opportunities to voters of color. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that this language covers instances in which state mapmakers exploit racially polarized voting by packing and cracking communities of color to dilute the effectiveness of their votes.

Third, our brief explains that race-consciousness is embedded in the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment. Alabama argues that the Fifteenth Amendment prohibits Congress from taking race into account in formulating remedies for violations of the VRA. However, nothing in the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment supports Alabama’s crabbed view of the express power to guarantee equal political opportunity. Indeed, the Reconstruction Framers wrote the enforcement clause in sweeping terms precisely because of the reality that the electoral system was divided along racial lines. In enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress can take race into account in order to properly ensure that voters of color can participate equally in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

Case Timeline

  • July 18, 2022

    CAC files amicus curiae brief

    Sup. Ct. Amicus Br.
  • October 4, 2022

    Supreme Court will hear oral argument

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