HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A big win was delivered to civil rights groups on Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a surprising 5-4 decision, ruling in favor of a case that claims Alabama's current congressional maps discriminate against Black voters. The decision could set a precedent for similar cases in Texas, one of the battleground states regarding voting rights.
The case was brought forth by a group of minority voters from Alabama and civil rights organizations. They argued that the maps used in the 2022 elections diluted the voice of the state's Black population.
According to Section 2 in the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, states cannot draw maps that "result in denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race or color."
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the decision from the SCOTUS majority that the existence of only one majority Black congressional district out of seven denied more than a quarter of the state's population an equal opportunity to elect political candidates of their choosing.
This ruling came as a surprise because of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court and previous rulings in recent years that rolled back protections against racial discrimination.
According to the Associated Press, Roberts was part of conservative high-court majorities in earlier cases that made it harder for minorities to use the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in ideologically divided rulings in 2013 and 2021.
Political experts said this SCOTUS ruling could impact similar cases here in Texas.
"Ninety-five percent of the population growth between 2010 and 2020 was driven by Black, Latino, and Asian residents in Texas. But our statewide maps don't reflect that reality. There are ongoing lawsuits against the state of Texas that challenge those maps as discriminatory and dilutive of those communities of color," said Sarah Chen, staff attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project's voting rights program.
"There is a lawsuit against the Spring Branch Independent School District on the same standards, racially polarized voting. Now that case will go forward. If it's heard in court, it will surely be appealed. But if it gets to the Supreme Court, it's very clear that Roberts, (Justice Brett) Cavanaugh, and the three other liberal justices will form a 5-4 majority to uphold this particular ruling regarding racially polarized voting," said Prof. Bob Stein, who teaches political science at Rice University.
Chen shared her organization is also a part of a similar lawsuit against Galveston County that alleges its maps diminishes the power of Black and Latino voters.
"We have been fighting for a long time for truly equal access to the ballot and fair representation. It is not anyone's dream that the law passed in 1965 to address the horrific injustice from that time period and Jim Crow are still so relevant in today's society," she said.
Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, shared he is ecstatic over this ruling, but said it's not a slam dunk victory, and they can't count on every similar case winning in court.
"What this says is that Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act) is still alive, though different levels of proof might be required. The Court did indicate that they would still be open to other potential challenges and give some credence to some of the more extreme groups who want to disenfranchise minorities altogether. But for now, at least, we have a landscape that we can look at that will attempt to prevail," he said.
Alabama will now have to redraw its election maps ahead of the 2024 election, which will likely include a second majority Black district.
The new maps likely mean greater minority representation from Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives.