[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday vacated [opinion, PDF] a lower court decision that Alabama’s redistricting plans did not improperly rely on race to determine voting districts. In a close 5-4 decision, the court found in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama [SCOTUSblog docket] that the decision of the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama reached its conclusion by asking the wrong question and the decision was therefore legally erroneous. Where the lower court asked how to maintain the present minority percentages in majority-minority districts, according to the Supreme Court decision, it should have asked “the extent to which they must preserve existing minority percentages in order to maintain the minority’s present ability to elect the candidate of its choice.” The court avoided ruling on the lawfulness or constitutionality of the 2012 proposed redistricting plan, remanding the case back to the lower court.
Wednesday’s decision rejects the decision and reasoning of the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, which ruled [opinion] in 2013 that the state’s redistricting plans violated neither the Voting Rights Act nor the Constitution. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on the redistricting plan in November, at which time the court seemed divided over the issue with some confusion about when race can be appropriately used in redistricting plans.