July 19, 2022
City, NV – Today, Attorney General Aaron D. Ford announced he has
joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general urging the Supreme Court not to undo
four decades of legal precedent protecting the voting power of minority
communities in the pending case Merrill v. Milligan.
In a brief filed in the case, the
coalition of attorneys general argue that the Supreme Court should affirm a
lower court’s ruling that Alabama’s congressional district maps violate the
Voting Rights Act and must be redrawn. The coalition urges the Supreme Court to
maintain the established, straightforward standard used to determine whether a
plaintiff has a viable claim of unlawful vote dilution. The brief, led by
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and New York Attorney General
Letitia James, further argues that the court should reject Alabama’s proposed
new standard for judging whether such a claim can proceed because it is
unnecessary, untested and unmanageable.
Voting Rights Act has been an anchor of equality for the Black community and
other communities of color for decades," said AG Ford.
“Alabama’s congressional maps violate this act, and the state’s communities of
color have a right to use the standards that have been tried, tested and proven
effective over the last four decades to ensure their fair representation in
Congress. The dissolution of our voting rights does not happen in a vacuum and
must be fought for and protected on all fronts."
Under the Voting Rights Act, states may
not draw legislative districts that dilute minority voting power and prevent
communities of color from having a chance to elect their preferred candidates.
The Supreme Court established standards for assessing the fairness of districts
in the 1986 case Thornburg v. Gingles, and states have relied on that
framework ever since.
Nearly 30% of Alabama’s population is
Black, but under districts drawn by the state after the 2020 census, only one
of the state’s seven congressional district’s is majority-Black. Civil rights
groups and Black Alabama voters filed suit against the state seeking to have
the maps redrawn. In these suits, they argue that Alabama violated the Voting
Rights Act by unlawfully drawing maps that “pack” Black voters into one
A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that Alabama’s maps violated the Voting
Rights Act and ordered the state to redraw them. Alabama appealed to the
Supreme Court and is urging the Court to change the long-established framework
used to determine whether districts are drawn fairly or whether they harm
minority communities and violate the Voting Rights Act. Under settled law, a
plaintiff begins by showing that a minority group is sufficiently large and
geographically compact to constitute a majority in a reasonably configured
district. Alabama seeks to jettison this settled test and to require plaintiffs
to prove at the outset that the state’s map deviates too far from supposedly
“neutral” maps produced through computer algorithms.
In this brief, the states urge the Supreme Court to rule
that Alabama’s congressional districts must be redrawn and maintain the
existing framework for judging whether districts are drawn fairly for two main
The existing standard is
straightforward, and states rely on it. For decades, states have relied on this settled
understanding of the first-step inquiry into potential vote dilution. It
requires applying principals traditionally used to draw legislative districts
and asking whether it is possible to draw reasonable maps that would give
minorities greater voting power. If so, then the vote-dilution claim is allowed
to move forward and be heard in full. The existing standard has been applied by
federal and state courts in hundreds of cases across the country.
Alabama’s proposed new standard is unworkable and depends
on complex untested technology:
Alabama has proposed a radical new standard to judge whether a vote-dilution
claim can even get off the ground. Claiming that it is unlawful to consider
race at all in the first step of the process of assessing district maps,
Alabama suggests that plaintiffs should be forced to use computer algorithms to
generate numerous “neutrally drawn” maps and then prove that a state’s actual
map differs too much from those supposedly “neutral” examples. However, this new
standard is unnecessary and unmanageable. The computer technology involved
is new and continues to evolve, and there is no settled definition of a
“neutrally drawn” map or a clear standard for determining how similar a state’s
map would need to be in order to be considered lawful. There is no reason to
inject these complex new questions into vote-dilution cases.
In their brief, the states also correct misrepresentations
Alabama makes about vote dilution claims under the Voting Rights Act.
AG Ford joins AGs Racine and James on
the brief, as well as the attorneys general of California, Colorado,
Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont,
Washington and Wisconsin.
A copy of the amicus brief is attached.