Black leaders across the country are hailing Thursday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a key voting rights law in Alabama as a major victory while also expressing cautious optimism about what comes next.
The case, Allen v. Milligan, is largely seen as a ruling in favor of Black voters after the Supreme Court sided with a district court’s previous decision to redraw Alabama’s Republican-heavy congressional district map in an effort to abide by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Voting rights advocates feared the conservative-leaning Supreme Court’s ruling would reflect the ongoing assault on Black voting power in pockets of the U.S. before Thursday’s unexpected decision.
The ruling came 10 years after the Shelby County v. Holder decision which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by striking down Sections 4 and 5 of the landmark measure.
Seemingly everyone from the executive branch of the federal government to civil rights leaders to faith leaders to grassroots organizations is greeting the decision with welcome arms. But at the same time, they’re also renewing calls for Congress to finally pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, both of which are designed to ensure all eligible parties can cast votes, including and especially Black and brown voters.
“The Supreme Court decision in Allen v. Milligan is a win for democracy, and a win for the nation,” said Glenn Harris, president of Race Forward. “While we know that we have more work to do to ensure all voters can elect candidates of choice, this decision is a step in the right direction and a boost for organizers and community members.”
Vice President Kamala Harris said she and the president will continue their efforts to secure voting rights for all and lauded the Supreme Court rejecting “Alabama’s attempt to dilute the voting power of Black Americans and to further weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Harris later added: “Voting is the right that unlocks all other rights, and fair maps are essential for representation. Important freedoms we enjoy and continue to fight for today come from our equal access to the ballot box.”
Phyllis Hill, founder of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC) and national organizing director for Faith in Action, credited the Supreme Court’s ruling to “the tremendous work of grassroots organizers across the country. It is an indication that we can win if we persist and refuse to give up.”
Calling the decision “a step in the right direction,” Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida and a BSWC member, accurately acknowledged that the existing “fight to preserve democracy is ongoing.
That “fight” Thomas mentioned will “continue” with organizing in each state “to ensure all communities have equal and fair maps; and to ensure we clear barriers to the ballot box for all,” said Nsombi Lambright, executive director of One Voice in Mississippi.
NAACP President and CEO, Derrick Johnson, commended advocates in Alabama for their hard work paying off by way of Thursday’s ruling. But he also cautioned that the fight for securing voting rights in America is “far from over.”
“The same malicious actors who are working to suppress Black votes in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are coming to a city near you,” Johnson added. “We remain committed in our fight for free and fair elections and the ability of Black Americans to elect leaders who will truly represent their interests – that’s how we thrive. I encourage the Supreme Court to continue issuing opinions that reflect and protect the true opinions of the American people, not an extremist minority.”
Tameka Greer, executive director of Memphis Artists for Change and a BSWC member, said she was “relieved” by the ruling “but not resigned to rest on our laurels. We will continue to organize to ensure that all communities can vote and elect candidates of choice.”
Amid the celebrations, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) made a sobering point that “the ruling does not strengthen legal protections for Black voters — it merely preserves the status quo. The fact remains that the Supreme Court previously allowed the same map that they just determined unconstitutionally, and systemically diluted Black votes be used in the 2022 election.” The CBC statement listed previous Supreme Court decisions that it said have “distorted the voting landscape in a way that has made it easier for states to dilute and suppress the Black vote.”
Ashley K. Shelton, president and founder of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, said she and her organization “are no doubt pleased in the ruling and encouraged to continue the work our ancestors began long ago.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network (NAN), expressed sentiments of hope that “the Supreme Court’s era of disenfranchising voters is coming to an end” based on Thursday’s ruling. Saying that “Alabama’s gerrymandering policies were quintessential, modern-day Jim Crow tactics to suppress Black voters in the state,” Sharpton also noted that it can’t be forgotten how “we’re in this mess because the Supreme Court took a sledgehammer to the Voting Rights Act a decade ago when it ruled on Shelby v. Holder. States essentially got the greenlight to recut lines, purge voter rolls, and take any other steps to keep Black and Brown Americans from showing up at the polls.”
Sharpton also challenged lawmakers to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act by the time the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington rolls around in August.
“We remain dedicated to the work before us and convinced in the prospect for change, not because of one court’s decision but because the arc of the universe bends towards justice,” said Kendra Cotton, executive director of the New Georgia Project and a BSWC member.
“Communities of color in this increasingly diverse country need assurance in the law that their right to be fairly represented in government can come from the courts will legislatures fail to follow the law,” Kareem Crayton, senior director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.
However, Crayton also had a warning: “Make no mistake: [the] ruling doesn’t still leaves us with a weakened tool of enforcement.”
The Rev. Dr. A. B. Sutton Jr., board chairman of Faith in Action Alabama (FIAAL), said “Black Alabamians and all people who believe in equal access to the ballot box are breathing a sigh of relief” after Thursday’s ruling. “While there is still so much work to be done to strengthen voting rights in Alabama, we can take some comfort that the highest Court recognizes the importance of protecting a multiracial democracy.”
Rebekah Caruthers, Vice President of the Fair Elections Center, said the decision “breaks the troubling trend of our Supreme Court steadily dismantling parts of this country’s most vital voting rights law – the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision rightfully affirms that no voters should be stifled by racial discrimination, including the shameful gerrymandered maps put forth by Alabama state lawmakers.”
FIAAL clergy leader Bishop George Crenshaw of the Alabama-Florida district of the AME Zion Church said his experience as a Black pastor in the south gives him a unique vantage point.
“I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of faith-based organizing,” Crenshaw said. “This decision is built on years of organizing – especially by Black voting rights advocates – and proves that when we sound our moral chorus, we can deliver justice for all.”
The Georgia Redistricting Alliance called Allen v. Milligan “the most consequential redistricting case in the recent history of the U.S. Supreme Court” because it “had the potential to further erode the landmark Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in voting.”
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