The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday disavowing Alabama’s electoral map — which was drawn and approved by the state’s legislature and which dilutes the Black vote — paves the way for reviewing redistricting in several Republican-led states, a key issue when it comes to electing members of the House of Representatives and those in other lower-ranking elections. The 5-4 decision is the outcome of an appeal that was filed against Alabama’s new congressional district map as drawn by the Republican majority, in which there was only one majority-Black district (where the Democratic candidate always wins) and ensured that the remaining six districts were majority-white (where the winner tends to be a Republican). The Supreme Court ruling states that it must be applied before the presidential election and the legislative elections in November 2024.
Since the beginning of 2021, several Republican-governed states have changed the boundaries of their electoral districts. This is a surgical political operation aimed at concentrating the Republican vote and diluting the Democratic one. Civil rights groups warned that such electoral map revisions put minorities at a disadvantage and violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects and guarantees the vote of minority communities. The Republican leaders who promoted the reshaping of voting districts argued that the Constitution limits the “consideration of race” in designing congressional districts. In the middle of this discussion, The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama ruled that a second Black-majority (or almost Black-majority) district should be created. However, the midterms last year took place in that state with the map modified according to the provisional instruction issued by the Supreme Court.
The justices’ final decision is very relevant, not only for legal reasons, but also because the Supreme Court has a conservative majority and tends to support initiatives coming from the Republican side. But it is also relevant because it once more highlights an undeniable reality: The U.S. is far from having overcome the racial divide — the old conflict inherited from slavery — of a way of life that in many states has enshrined the clear split between white and Black communities. Which is something that can be extended to the historical marginalization of the Indian Nations in so many places and, more recently, to the groups established in the country during the last half-century, particularly the Hispanic or Latino communities.
On March 18, 2008, in Philadelphia, Sen. Barack Obama delivered his memorable speech “A More Perfect Union” when he was only a Democratic front-runner for the nomination. The future president said that the racial issue had been in a deadlock for a very long time and added: “I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy […] But I have asserted a firm conviction — a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that, working together, we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.” What favored his election led, nonetheless, to the activation of atavistic racial bias; a substantial part of the conservative sphere interpreted Obama’s arrival in the White House as an unmistakable sign that every imaginable red line had been crossed. And from there, the far right capitalized on alarmed white people in the so-called American heartland, which culminated in Donald Trump’s election.
Some factors that are not strictly racial fuel frustration among the heirs of WASP culture (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant): progression of the Spanish language and its competition with English in the job market, birth rates, increase in people migrating illegally (about 15 million) while still being established in the job market. The ingredients justifying the state of exasperation of minorities, particularly African Americans, are no less numerous: incidents of police brutality, ghetto culture, the exponential growth of the non-white prison population, the persistence of different, coercive forms of racism, which include the manipulation of different congressional districts to dilute the African American vote in white environments.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling is extremely important for democratic culture. However, it can poison next year’s campaign as soon as it overlaps with the repeal of other congressional maps, the legal proceedings Trump must face, disinformation campaigns on social media and any incident as significant as the 2019 and 2020 cases of police brutality and chaos. Furthermore, there might be various kinds of appeals after the election next November, aimed at reproducing the poisoned environment that followed Joe Biden’s victory, in which perhaps the Supreme Court should intervene. This comes with an unanswerable question: How will the two conservative judges who for once voted with the three liberal ones behave?
A columnist from the weekly magazine The Atlantic wrote months ago that, barring an irrefutable victory by Trump, there will be many willing to discredit the election and soil the electoral process. In other words, the risk is at its highest, and the increasing number of Republican candidates who want to compete against the former president in the primaries foreshadows a radicalization of their proposals, because none of them present themselves as an alternative to the well-known far-right extremism of the New York billionaire, but rather as a 2.0 version of all the markings of his presidency: more of the same, perhaps with less bravado and more politeness.
*Editor’s Note: The original Spanish-language article is available with a paid subscription.