Jim Crow Laws Are Being Replaced By Sam Alito Laws

Jim Crow Laws Are Being Replaced By Sam Alito Laws
Photo by Mikala Compton/REUTERS

As expected, the Supreme Court yesterday let stand a redistricting map in South Carolina that rejiggered a district in and around Charleston to load the district with white, Republican voters and move black, largely Democratic Party voters to a district that is already largely black and Democratic.

A lower federal court had ordered that the district be redrawn, saying it had been “bleached” of Black voters who were “exiled” to the district which has elected Rep. James Clyburn, a Black Democrat who has held his seat in Congress for 31 years. The new map that was upheld by the Supreme Court moved 62 percent of Black voters from the First District, a seat held by Republican Nancy Mace, to Clyburn’s Sixth District. In other words, the map approved by the Supreme Court forced more Black voters into a district that already had a surfeit of them.

Under the previous map, the First District has been Republican every year since 1980, with the exception of 2018, when a Democratic mid-term surge flipped it. In 2020, using the old map, the race was exceedingly close, with Mace winning by only one percent of the vote. After the 2020 census, when the district was redrawn, Mace won by 14 points. The lower court decision said Republicans who control the state legislature and governorship in South Carolina had redrawn the district to “create a stronger Republican tilt,” and had done it using race as the criteria for the redistricting, which violated the 14th Amendment.

The Supreme Court decision upholding the new map, written by – here we go again -- Justice Samuel Alito, said that moving predominantly Black precincts in Charleston out of the First District and into the Sixth was permissible, but “because of the tight correlation between race and partisan preferences, this fact does little to show that race, not politics drove the legislature’s choice.” The Supreme Court has ruled previously that redistricting to achieve partisan advantage is constitutional. Now Alito has moved the goal posts and written a decision that says redistricting using race is constitutional because Black people vote Democratic.

So, bye-bye 14th Amendment once again, and hello to the Amendment written by Samuel Alito and upheld by the other five “conservative” justices on the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, they stripped the 14th Amendment of its clause forbidding anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding any office, federal or state, in the Colorado case that had banned Donald Trump from the ballot because of his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol and interference with the counting and certification of electoral ballots.

What’s next for Alito? It’s anyone’s guess. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to show up to hear a First Amendment case on religious liberty draped in the “Appeal to Heaven” flag.

But it’s not just Alito who is the problem with the South Carolina redistricting case. Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 upheld the right to vote for Black people, southern states began doing everything in their power to render Black votes useless. The first thing they did in the South was to redistrict everything right down to and including town councils and county boards of supervisors so that district fingers attached to white candidates reached into predominantly Black neighborhoods. The redistricting prevented council and board districts with concentrations of Black votes from running Black candidates and electing them to office.

In those days, before Shelby County v Holder, the Voting Rights Act still had its powers under Section Five to require pre-clearance by the Department of Justice when laws were passed or redistricting took place that affected the rights of Black voters. This became known as “diluting the Black vote,” but that was putting it too kindly. What southern states did was make Black votes worthless when it came to electing Black candidates to represent Black neighborhoods on town councils and county boards.

When the DOJ used Section Five pre-clearance powers to end that practice, southern states went to “at large” elections for town councils and county boards. Even in towns and counties with large Black populations, this practice allowed white people to pool their votes and continue to elect all-white boards and councils, until the DOJ once again used its Section Five pre-clearance powers to overturn the laws that prevented Black populations from electing representatives even when, because of segregated neighborhoods, they had districts with Black majority populations that wanted to elect Black candidates for office.

The Voting Rights Act still has Section Two which, according to guidance put out by the Department of Justice, “prohibits discrimination in voting on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” The Supreme Court cited Section Two last summer when by a 5-4 vote, it ruled that Alabama could not use a redistricting map that would have reduced congressional districts in the state with Black majorities and Black representatives to one district. Alito, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, was in the minority in the Alabama case.

But now Alito and Thomas and the rest of the so-called conservatives on the court have come up with a gimmick to get around Section Two, saying that because Black people tend to vote Democratic, their race can be used in redistricting that effectively creates whiter districts more favorable to Republican candidates for congress.

In a dissent signed by all three Democrat-appointed liberals, Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “And so this ‘odious’ practice of sorting citizens, built on racial generalizations and exploiting racial divisions, will continue. In the electoral sphere especially, where ‘ugly patterns of pervasive racial discrimination’ have so long governed, we should demand better — of ourselves, of our political representatives, and most of all of this Court.”

The “ugly patterns” referred to by Justice Kagan began with slavery and went on through Jim Crow laws that made it almost impossible for Black citizens to exercise their right to vote in the South until the Voting Rights Act corrected the nearly century-long nightmare faced by southern Blacks when it came to voting.

Now the so-called conservatives on the Supreme Court have succeeded in creating a new racist era: Jim Crow laws have been replaced by Sam Alito laws. With this Supreme Court, it is no longer one step forward, two steps back. When it comes to race on this court, the United States has been slammed into reverse.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

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