clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What the Supreme Court’s surprise voting rights ruling means for 2024

The surprise ruling will create a new Democratic-friendly district in Alabama — and might open up pathways elsewhere.

A photo of the Supreme Court building through tree branches.
The US Supreme Court in February, after it froze a lower court ruling that Alabama must draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections to increase Black voting power. 
Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
Christian Paz is a senior politics reporter at Vox, where he covers the Democratic Party. He joined Vox in 2022 after reporting on national and international politics for the Atlantic’s politics, global, and ideas teams, including the role of Latino voters in the 2020 election.

Democrats’ chances of winning back control of the House of Representatives in 2024 just got a big boost from the most unlikely of places: the conservative-dominated Supreme Court.

The court’s 5-4 decision Thursday morning in Allen v. Milligan found that Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature had diluted Black voting power by drawing only a single majority-Black congressional district (out of seven statewide seats) after the 2020 census. The ruling will lead to the creation of an additional majority-Black congressional district in the state — eliminating a Republican-held seat and likely giving Democrats an additional seat in the House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a 222-213 edge.

The decision is a surprise victory for the Voting Rights Act, which was used to bring the challenge to the Supreme Court despite being repeatedly gutted by the high court. It could also provide a roadmap for additional challenges to racially gerrymandered congressional maps across the South, including in Louisiana, which similarly has only one majority-Black congressional district out of six seats, despite Black voters making up a third of the Louisiana electorate, and in South Carolina, where a separate challenge to Republican redistricting efforts will be heard by the Supreme Court.

Those redistricting challenges could create additional minority-majority districts that would likely favor Democrats, meaning a raw gain for Democrats in the House of anywhere from two to four new congressional seats, according to some elections analysts. Additional court decisions in places where redistricting is being contested, like Georgia and Texas, could add to that seat gain — and help erase the current Republican margin in the U.S. House.

Beyond those possibilities that have to run through the courts, Democrats have a chance to flip highly competitive districts in California (two seats), Colorado (one seat), and New York state, which may have a special election before 2024 if Rep. George Santos (R), who is under indictment for wire fraud and money laundering allegations, were to resign.

Additionally, New York Democrats are also pushing for the state’s courts to return power to the state legislature to redraw congressional districts ahead of 2024, after the state’s highest court stepped in to block Democrats’ gerrymandering efforts. That court-mandated map created a much more neutral playing field, which benefitted New York Republicans, who ended up flipping four seats. (Currently, Democrats hold 15 of New York’s 26 House seats.)

A better map in New York, and new majority-Black districts across the South, would be crucial for Democrats’ hopes to win back control of the House, especially if North Carolina Republicans move forward with their current plans to toss out old congressional maps and gerrymander the state to create additional Republican-friendly seats. (North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats at the moment.)

In the meantime, the legal challenges from voting-rights advocates will continue. “We recognize that this fight is far from over,” Evan Milligan, a leading plaintiff in the Alabama decision, and the executive director of the voting-rights group Alabama Forward, said in a statement after the decision was made public. “Moving forward, we will continue organizing to ensure that all states draw accurately representative maps that include the say of Black and Brown communities.”

And the stakes of these challenges, which will be able to learn from this successful case, go beyond control of Congress, Kareem Crayton, the senior director for voting and representation at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, told Vox.

“The reverberations go to the state and local level as well,” he said. That all matters for improving representation for voters of color in the future.

“What does it mean for the last two years for political representation for African Americans in Alabama? We should be joyous, but we should be sober about what that impact has meant, because political representation isn’t something you go back and remedy. What you can do going forward is to fix it,” he added.

Thursday’s decision will likely raise the stakes for legislative action. Democrats had previously tried to pass new voting rights legislation in the first half of President Joe Biden’s presidency. That effort succeeded in the House but died in the closely divided Senate. With the House in GOP control now, those legislative efforts have stalled. But if control changes in 2024 and Democrats are able to hold onto their majority in the Senate and reelect Biden, that could change too — though they would likely have to change filibuster rules to bring voting-rights legislation to a vote in the Senate.

Already Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) have said they will “continue our work to reintroduce the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to fully restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure that all Americans have equal opportunities to participate in our democracy.”

These voting rights and democratic reforms still face big hurdles in Congress — but the same was true for advocates challenging racially gerrymandered districts. Their unlikely win today should give Democrats a lift as they head toward the 2024 election.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.